CEO out at Durham's Chimerix soon after public outcry over experimental drug

jmurawski@newsobserver.comApril 9, 2014 

A month after making national headlines for withholding an experimental drug from a critically ill child, Kenneth Moch is out as CEO of Durham drug maker Chimerix.

In the unexpected decision Wednesday, Chimerix named M. Michelle Berrey as chief executive officer, immediately succeeding Moch.

Moch arranged for the unapproved drug to be released to the sick boy after a public outcry, and the company has not publicly explained whether the executive shakeup is connected to his handling of the ethics controversy.

Moch, 59, declined to discuss the details of his abrupt departure.

“I am very proud of my accomplishments at Chimerix, including the significant increase in value of the company from $60 million to $600 million,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “I am looking forward to exploring interesting opportunities in the biotechnology and biopharmaceutical arena, which is what I’ve done my entire life.”

A graduate of Princeton and Stanford universities, Moch has been founder, director, president and chief executive at a number of health care companies and organizations, including Euclidean Life Sciences Advisors. He joined Chimerix in 2009 and became CEO in 2010. His total compensation in 2012 was $797,349.

Media glare over sick child

Moch was cast into the media glare last month when the family of Josh Hardy, a critically ill first-grader and four-time cancer survivor, publicly pleaded for the company’s drug to help the child combat a potentially fatal virus contracted after a bone marrow transplant.

The family took their pleas to the media and launched a social media campaign, but Moch remained adamant that Chimerix would be committing an ethical violation by selectively providing the medicine.

He received personal threats during the episode and was placed under armed escort. All the while, Chimerix was finalizing details with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on a pilot study to provide the drug brincidofovir to Josh and 20 others in his situation.

Chimerix has said it would not provide status updates on Josh’s recovery, but his father, Todd Hardy, said Josh’s virus receded after he started taking brincidofovir and now is detectable only at miniscule levels.

Focus on FDA approval

The 13-year-old company’s future is riding on brincidofovir, which is designed to prevent potent virus infections without debilitating side effects. Chimerix stock initially surged 45 percent on the publicity surrounding brincidofovir’s healing powers, peaking at $27.14 in mid-March. Shares settled at $21.92 Wednesday, up 28 cents on the day.

But Chimerix also faces the possibility that the clinical trial could reveal complications with the drug, delaying its approval by the Food and Drug Administration and its release to the public.

In announcing its new CEO, Chimerix emphasized its focus on winning rapid regulatory approval for the antiviral drug, saying that Berrey has the requisite know-how for this complex challenge. Berrey will also remain the company’s chief medical officer, a role she assumed in 2012.

“The primary focus of the company is the advance of brincidofovir toward regulatory approval,” said Joseph Schepers, executive director of investor relations at Chimerix.

Chimerix, which has no medicines on the market, raised $118 million a year ago in a public stock offering on the drug’s reputation. Brincidofovir is not expected to win approval for public use until late 2016 at the earliest.

Murawski: 919-829-8932

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