Sarissa Capital seeks to oust Ariad Pharma CEO-Reuters

(Reuters) – Sarissa Capital Management LP kicked off a proxy battle with Ariad Pharmaceuticals Inc on Friday, demanding the retirement of Harvey Berger, the drugmaker’s chief executive and principal founder.

The hedge fund, Ariad’s largest shareholder with a 6.87 percent stake, according to Thomson Reuters data, has been negotiating Berger’s exit with some of Ariad’s board members, but said the talks had reached an impasse.

Sarissa said it was seeking to unseat Berger and Wayne Wilson, Ariad’s lead independent director, at the 2015 annual meeting, expected around the third week of June.
Sarissa, run by investor Carl Icahn’s former healthcare lieutenant Alex Denner, said it would nominate Richard Mulligan, one of the fund’s founding partners, and former Takeda Pharmaceutical Co executive Anna Protopapas to Ariad’s board.

Denner has been on Ariad’s board since February 2014.

The fund said in a regulatory filing on Friday that it was “extremely disturbed” by Ariad’s decision to renew Berger’s employment and that it could initiate court proceedings to remove one or more of the drugmaker’s directors.

Ariad’s only drug on the market, Iclusig, which is approved to treat two kinds of blood cancer, has been linked to a risk of blood clots and artery blockage.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration suspended sales of Iclusig for two months in 2013, before allowing it back on the market for a smaller group of patients.
The drug failed to live up to analysts’ expectations in 2014, notching up global sales of about $56 million.

Sarissa teamed up with First Manhattan Co to topple the management at Vivus Inc in July 2013, after sales of the company’s diet drug Qsymia failed to take off.