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Cubist CEO Bonney Steps Down After 12-Year Stint

Xconomy Boston — 

Mike Bonney has seen Cubist Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: CBST) build an unlikely narrative, rising from an antibiotics startup without a marketed product to a mid-cap biotech with the bank account to buy other nascent companies. Today, more than a decade into that work, Bonney is stepping aside.

Bonney will officially step down from his post on Jan. 1 and hand Cubist’s reins over to Robert Perez, who has been at the company for 11 years and currently serves as its president and COO. Bonney will become the company’s non-executive chairman.

Bonney cut his teeth at Zeneca Pharmaceuticals and later Biogen, where he spent six years becoming a key player helping the company build the commercial infrastructure to launch the blockbuster multiple sclerosis drug interferon beta (Avonex). Bonney became Cubist’s president and chief operating officer in 2002, and eventually its CEO the following year.

It was a tumultuous start for Bonney at Lexington, MA-based Cubist: in his first week on the job, an antibiotic the company was developing called daptomycin—its only asset at the time—failed a Phase 3 clinical trial in pneumonia. Eli Lilly originally discovered daptomycin, but it stopped developing the drug after some early data tied it to some potentially dangerous side effects. Cubist grabbed rights to daptomycin through a deal in 1997 for about $1 million up front and royalties, believing it could solve the drug’s issues.

Indeed, the price paid for daptomycin turned out to be a pittance. Cubist figured out what went wrong in its late-stage trial, and won FDA approval of the drug in 2003. Sold as Cubicin, the drug now generates close to $1 billion annually, and has become a mainstay for MRSA skin infections and other infections.

“We discovered something unique about this antibiotic that explained why it failed, we packaged that information up, and went to the FDA maybe six months later,” Bonney said at an Xconomy event this past April. “I think [it was a] combination of good science to explain what we had, as well as, human health needed an option to treat MRSA,” that enabled Cubist to win FDA approval, he added.

Cubist became profitable off of daptomycin in 2007, and while it began investing some of those profits in its own antibiotic discovery efforts, it’s been dealmaking that has helped the company begin to diversify beyond its key asset—which still accounted for some 90 percent of its sales in 2013. Cubist co-marketed the clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea treatment fidaxomicin (Dificid) with Optimer Pharmaceuticals via a licensing deal, but took all the drug’s rights when it bought Optimer last year. The company acquired Trius Therapeutics on the same day, grabbing ahold of tedizolid phosphate (Sivextro), which is approved to treat skin infections caused by susceptible gram-positive bacteria.

“Under Mike Bonney’s leadership, Cubist made the extraordinarily rare transition from struggling startup to global biotechnology leader with outstanding future growth potential,” said Cubist chairman Kenneth Bate. “While delivering impressive results for shareholders and important therapies to patients, Mike has also helped create a dynamic company culture and a talented, diverse leadership team. We are very pleased that he will continue to serve on the Board, now as Chair. On behalf of the Board and everyone at Cubist, I thank Mike for his exceptional stewardship of Cubist over the past twelve years.”