Epix CEO Resigns After Bumpy Road with Products for Depression, Alzheimer’s

7/28/08Follow @xconomy

Here’s a CEO resignation that caught me by surprise this morning. Epix Pharmaceuticals CEO Michael Kauffman stepped down as CEO and as a member of the company’s board of directors, as of last Friday, according to a statement from the Lexington, MA-based company. He left for the proverbial chance to “pursue other opportunities.”

Kauffman, 44, became Epix’s CEO in August 2006, through the company’s acquisition of Predix Pharmaceuticals, the company said. He is being replaced by Elkan Gamzu, an Epix director, who will be interim CEO.

Epix (NASDAQ: EPIX) has had a bumpy ride under Kauffman. Its Vasovist product, designed to help doctors get a clearer picture from magnetic resonance angiography tests that look at blood vessels, has been dealt a series of delays from the FDA since Epix first submitted it for approval in December 2003. An experimental depression drug failed in a mid-stage clinical trial in March. And Epix’s Alzheimer’s drug candidate showed promising results in December in a small clinical trial, yet the company later discovered its contract research organization made errors in data-crunching that ended up making the drug’s cognitive benefit appear more modest. Not surprisingly, the stock has dropped 49 percent so far this year, trading at $2 a share at 12:27 p.m. Eastern today.

Still, Kauffman hasn’t been in hiding. I spoke to him less than two weeks ago, for a feature story about how he was preparing for a big Alzheimer’s conference in Chicago that runs through Thursday. He touted a couple of anecdotal cases of patients who stayed on the Alzheimer’s drug for six months, and showed “profound” improvement. “You don’t have to be a physician to see progress when a patient can suddenly play cards when they couldn’t before,” Kauffman said at the time. The drug, being developed in partnership with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, is currently being tested in larger mid-stage clinical trials.

We put a call in to a PR agency representing Epix, with the two big questions: Why’s Kauffman leaving, and what’s he going to do next. I also wonder what he gets in terms of a golden parachute. The company’s most recent proxy filing with the SEC says he got $1.3 million in total compensation last year, made up of salary, bonus, the value of stock option awards and perks. If we hear back anything, or we see some answers in any new regulatory filings, we’ll let you know.

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