Biogen Idec Research Boss Quits Board, Giving Icahn Shot at Pushing R&D Agenda

8/26/09Follow @xconomy

[Update: 8:20 pm Eastern time with Biogen comments]

One of the Biogen Idec executives who was criticized earlier this year for displaying “failed leadership,” in the words of billionaire investor Carl Icahn, is resigning from the company’s board after an earlier pledge to keep the seat.

Cecil Pickett, Biogen’s president of research and development, will retire from both his full-time day job and relinquish his spot on the board on Oct. 5, according to a regulatory filing released late today. The Cambridge, MA-based company (NASDAQ: BIIB) said back in March that Pickett, whose term on the board wasn’t due to expire until 2011, planned to retain one of the company’s 13 board seats.

Two months after announcing his plans to retire, Pickett’s R&D operation came under a withering attack from Icahn. The billionaire investor urged shareholders to vote for his four nominees to the Biogen board, and one of the main arguments he advanced was that Biogen was the only major biotech company of the past five years that hasn’t introduced a single new drug. Icahn blamed that on a “lack of R&D focus.” Two of Icahn’s nominees, Alex Denner and Richard Mulligan, ended up winning seats on the board after a highly contentious shareholder meeting in June.

While it isn’t known how much influence Pickett would have had on R&D from his board perch, the loss of a director who had overseen Biogen’s R&D is a potential opportunity for Icahn to push for changes. Pickett is the second director to resign in two months, following MIT biologist and Biogen co-founder Phil Sharp, who stepped down last month. Sharp, who had been a director since 1982, was also serving a board term that was due to expire in 2011.

Biogen’s board will decide whether or not to fill the board vacancies, and if so, who will take those slots, says Biogen spokeswoman Jennifer Neiman. “It’s premature to comment on any long-term impact,” of the changes to the board, she says. Neiman added that the search for Pickett’s replacement as full-time president of R&D is “well underway.”

Denner, a portfolio manager for Icahn, didn’t immediately return a phone message requesting comment.

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  • Melissa Tatum

    I have MS and more research is not only needed, it’s vital to the quality of life of MS patients. Please do more research!