Vectura seeks new CEO as Ward-Lilley steps down

UK-listed Vectura has started the search for a new chief executive, after revealing current CEO James Ward-Lilley will be stepping down on 30 June after four years at the helm.

Chief financial officer Paul Fry will take on the CEO role on an interim basis in addition to his current duties while the search takes place. The company’s chairman Bruno Angelici said “it is now time for a new leader to take Vectura through its next phase of development.”

Ex-AstraZeneca exec Ward-Lilley is stepping down from the company shortly after its partner Novartis filed for approval of a triple therapy for asthma known as QVM149, triggering a $5 million milestone payment to the UK company and its development partner Sosei Heptares.

His departure also comes after a US court awarded the company nearly $90 million in damages in a patent dispute with GlaxoSmithKline involving the latter’s Ellipta inhaler.

It hasn’t all been good news for Vectura of late however, and shares in the company are trading at less than half the heights achieved back in 2015/16 when Ward-Lilly first took charge.

Last November it was forced to abandon a late-stage drug in severe uncontrolled asthma after it failed a phase 3 trial, taking a £40 million charge. The drug – called VR475 – was an inhaled formulation of the corticosteroid budesonide delivered using Vectura’s proprietary nebuliser device.

It also suffered a delay to its generic version of GlaxoSmithKline’s blockbuster Advair Diskus (fluticasone propionate/salmeterol), partnered with Jordan’s Hikma, which was knocked back by the FDA last year with a request for a new clinical trial.

Angelici highlighted the positive in his comments on Ward-Lilley’s departure. “Following the successful merger with Skyepharma in 2016, James has demonstrated great resilience building an effective and robust business,” he said.

“This has been reflected in a strong 2018 financial and operational performance, followed by positive news flow this year.”

The focus of the new CEO will be to develop new partnerships and revenue streams, in line with Vectura’s recent strategy update, and in particular the refiling of the Advair generic VR315 and partnering negotiations for asthma drug/device combination VR647, in phase 3 development.

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