February 5, 2009 / 9:31 PM / 11 years ago

UPDATE 3-Vertex CEO to retire, clearing way for M&A deal

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By Deena Beasley

LOS ANGELES, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc (VRTX.O) said on Thursday its president, chief executive and founder, Joshua Boger, will retire in May — a move analysts said could clear the way for the sale of the biotechnology company.

Shire Plc SHP.L Nonexecutive Chairman Matthew Emmens, who is a Vertex board member, takes over as president, effective immediately. He will also assume the posts of CEO and chairman in May, the company said. Both executives are aged 57.

“I think this will be viewed positively,” said Sanford Bernstein analyst Geoffrey Porges. “He (Boger) is perceived to have been an obstacle to the sale of the company.”

Vertex’s leading product is a highly regarded experimental treatment for hepatitis C that is in the final stage of human testing prior to seeking approval.

With the potential to cut the current 48-week treatment time for the serious liver disease in half, telaprevir is considered by analysts a likely future blockbuster medicine.

Edward Tenthoff, an analyst with Piper Jaffrey, said the skill set required of the CEO going forward is going to be different than it has been.

Boger is “a scientist, a drug discovery and development guy,” while Emmens “is more of a commercial operations guy. He’s launched drugs, built sales forces,” Tenthoff said. “He has more M&A and deals expertise.”

He said Vertex, which already has a deal with Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) on telaprevir, is a potential acquisition candidate.

Vertex said last month it expects a net loss of $475 million to $510 million this year as it funds expensive late-stage clinical trials and prepares for the commercial launch of telaprevir.

The presence of “a charismatic founder” has led to turnover in the management ranks at Vertex, where spending on research and development has been on the high side,” Porges said.

“All of those things should improve with Emmens.”

Vertex Chairman Charles Sanders will remain as lead director on the company’s board. Boger will remain an active member of the board.

Vertex shares, which rose 1.7 percent to close at $33.96 on Nasdaq, were slightly higher at $34.17 after hours. (Additional reporting by Bill Berkrot; editing by Richard Chang and Andre Grenon)

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