CEO James Mullen's Departure from Biogen Idec: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Last Updated Jan 6, 2010 11:30 PM EST

There's been no shortage of commentary on James Mullen's plan to retire from his position of president, CEO and board member of Biogen Idec (BIIB).

The Good: Mullen has been with the company 20 years, half of that time spent at the helm. Brian Orelli at Motley Fool points out that Mullen achieved quite a bit during his term, overseeing the Biogen merger with Idec, not to mention the approval of multiple sclerosis drug Tysbari (natalizumab) which, although pulled from the market due to brain infection risks, achieved a rare second approval. And Adam Feuerstein at The Street gave Mullen props, too:

It might be lost amidst all the palace intrigue, but Mullen did manage to bring home a 12 percent return for shareholders in 2009 -- making Biogen the only big-cap biotech stock to close the year in the green.
The Bad: Despite his achievements, Mullen has taken a lot of flak for failing to create enough value at Biogen. Tysabri's triumphant relaunch was marred by more brain infection reports, and patient uptake is nowhere near what was once hoped. Sales of older MS drug Avonex (interferon beta-1a) are slowing as well, and late-stage trials of two cancer drugs and an anti-inflammatory have been halted.

Reuters noted that an investor slammed Mullen for "selling more than $85 million of Biogen stock and collecting $63 million in compensation while doing little to enhance shareholder value." The Reuters article also quoted another investor as saying:

"There hasn't been a lot of confidence in Mullen's leadership, and this reminds folks that the moves made last year by Icahn are having some impact."
The Ugly: Minyanville's Lisa LaMotta chronicles Mullen's fight with activist investor Carl Icahn, who tried unsuccessfully to get Biogen acquired, and to nominate his own slate of directors, two of which finally received board seats. And CNBC's Mike Huckman provided an inside look at a "bizarre shareholder meeting" in which Biogen kept polls open while calling investors and trying to sway their votes. Afterward:
Icahn's biotech lieutenant Alex Denner was telling me in a live CNBC interview, that they'd won at least one seat, probably two. Where was Mullen? He slinked out the back door into a waiting black car. The optics of that, let alone the bad PR, were striking.
Biogen investors are hoping it will be all good in the end, with new leadership invigorating the company and/or another attempt at a sale.
  • Trista Morrison

    Trista Morrison is a staff writer at BioWorld Today, a daily newspaper that