Dendreon’s Commercial Point Man Exits In Year One of Provenge Launch

11/18/10Follow @xconomy

[Update: 4:15 pm Pacific] One of the key people at Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN) who was hired to make its new prostate cancer drug a success is out of a job after less than a year.

Seattle-based Dendreon said today in a regulatory filing that Varun Nanda has left the company effective immediately. Nanda, Dendreon’s senior vice president of global commercial operations, will get severance benefits in accordance with his employment agreement, the company said. No reason was given for the departure in the regulatory filing.

Nanda’s hiring was announced in April, just a couple weeks before Dendreon won FDA approval to start selling sipuleucel-T (Provenge) a first-of-its-kind immune boosting therapy for prostate cancer. Nanda was previously the senior vice president and head of global oncology for Roche, the world’s largest maker of cancer drugs, which sells billion-dollar hits like rituximab (Rituxan), bevacizumab (Avastin), and trastuzumab (Herceptin). That’s about as high-profile as it gets in the cancer drug business, and Dendreon heralded the arrival of Nanda as a coup.

“With more than twenty years of commercial experience, Varun will help guide our team as we move closer to realizing our mission of transforming the lives of cancer patients,”  Dendreon’s chief operating officer, Hans Bishop, said in a statement on April 8. “Varun’s depth of experience launching Avastin and leading several breakthrough global oncology products will be highly relevant to our transformation from a purely R&D organization into a world-class commercial organization.”

While the drugs from Roche are targeted antibodies that are delivered via liquids in a vial, Dendreon’s treatment requires a more complicated process in which blood is withdrawn, exposed to markers found on prostate cancer cells, and then re-infused so that the patient’s immune system knows how to better fight the malignancy. In its first year on the market, Dendreon’s manufacturing system has been unable to keep up with demand from patients. The company is operating at maximum now at about $9 to $10 million in sales per month. When more factory capacity comes online later in 2011, the company expects to be able to sell $350 million to $400 million of the treatment. Eventually, many analysts predict it will reach billion-dollar annual blockbuster status.

[Update] Dendreon spokeswoman Katherine Stueland wrote back with a short comment that didn’t say why Nanda left the company. She did say that Bishop, Dendreon’s chief operating officer, will oversee marketing and sales until it identifies a replacement for Nanda.

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  • joseph a sasenick

    Bad sign and I am concerned about Dendreon predicting what the FDA will do.