Cleveland company’s chairman and CEO abruptly steps down
By Terry Troy
Dr. Gil Van Bokkelen has stepped down as Chairman and CEO of regenerative medicine company and Cleveland-based Athersys on the eve of the Company’s Virtual Investor Day, which was scheduled for last week but cancelled. The same day, the company also announced that it entered into a cooperation agreement with HEALIOS K.K. (“Healios”) , the Company’s largest shareholder and one of its commercial partners, and Dr. Hardy TS Kagimoto, a member of Athersys’ Board and the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Healios.
The cooperation agreement is intended to reaffirm the mutual commitment to collaborative development of MultiStem in Japan. MultiStem cell therapy is a patented regenerative medicine product candidate that Athersys has in clinical development, which has shown its ability to promote tissue repair and healing in a variety of ways, such as through the production of therapeutic factors in response to signals of inflammation and tissue damage.
The Athersys Board has named William (B.J.) Lehmann, the Company’s president and COO, as Interim CEO. Dr. Ismail Kola, Lead Director of the Athersys Board, has been appointed Chairman of the Board. The Company’s Board is commencing a comprehensive search process to identify a permanent CEO. The Board intends to identify and select a CEO who can guide Athersys in the commercial stage. Obviously, the Athersys is looking forward to working under the terms of the new agreement with Healios.
“This mutual agreement represents a significant positive development for Athersys, and we look forward to continuing to collaborate with Healios as a commercial partner,” said Dr. Kola. “This agreement will enable both Athersys and Healios to focus on advancing our late-stage programs for MultiStem, including preparing for top line results from Healios’ TREASURE trial for stroke and ONE-BRIDGE trial for ARDS, which we continue to expect in this year. With the accelerated regulatory pathways in Japan, we look forward to working closely with Healios as they prepare for their rolling submission for potential approval in Japan. We remain excited about the potential for MultiStem to change the lives of millions of patients globally and will continue to work towards expanding our international network of collaborations and alliances, to advance our clinical programs and drive value for our shareholders.”
Pursuant to the agreement with Healios, the parties commit to work in good faith to finalize negotiations, with a spirit of cooperation and transparency as quickly as possible, on open matters important to successful commercialization in Japan.
Dr. Kola also thanked Van Bokkelen for his efforts with Athersys.
“On behalf of the Board and everyone at Athersys, I want to thank Gil for his valuable contributions and years of service since co-founding Athersys in 1995,” said Dr. Kola. “During Gil’s tenure, Athersys successfully established a portfolio of therapeutic product development programs to address significant unmet medical needs across several disease areas that represent substantial commercial opportunities. His vision, energy, tenacity and leadership have been critical for building Athersys into the leader in regenerative medicine it is today, and we wish him all the best in his future endeavors.
“As we advance our late-stage pipeline and lay the groundwork for commercialization of our MultiStem product, Gil and the Board have mutually determined that now is the right time to transition to the next generation of leadership to help drive the Company forward and position Athersys for long-term growth and success,” Dr. Kola added. “Over the last several years, Athersys has made significant progress across our clinical programs and commercial readiness activities, and we remain excited about the future of Athersys and the potential for MultiStem to improve the lives of millions of patients globally. With two important clinical trials nearing completion in Japan in partnership with Healios, for which results are expected in 2021, and several of our own clinical studies, including our lead ischemic stroke program, we remain focused on preparing for important top-line data readouts and on developing our go-to-market strategy for MultiStem.”
“It’s been a privilege to lead Athersys, and I am proud of all that we have accomplished together,” said Dr. Van Bokkelen. “Athersys has a wealth of talent and some of the best and most knowledgeable employees in the regenerative medicine space, and I am confident that the Company’s future is bright and remains in good hands under experienced leadership as the Board identifies the right person to guide the Company through commercial launch. I look forward to following the Company’s exciting progress.”
Dr. Van Bokkelen describes Athersys in the video below.