MedImmune chief stepping down

CEO credited with making Md. firm a biotech leader

June 27, 2008|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN REPORTER

After 16 years of guiding MedImmune Inc. from a struggling Gaithersburg biotech to one of the world's most profitable, Chief Executive David M. Mott is stepping down for personal reasons, the company's London-based parent, AstraZeneca PLC, said yesterday.

Tony Zook, CEO of AstraZeneca's North American business based in Wilmington, Del., will succeed Mott when he leaves at the end of July.

The announcement surprised local biotech representatives, who look to Mott, 42, as a role model in an industry the state considers among its best hopes for economic growth. Last week, Gov. Martin O'Malley announced plans to invest $1.1 billion during the next decade to ensure that Maryland stays at the forefront of biotechnology research and commercialization.

"David Mott has been one of the true leaders of the Maryland biotech community, and I'd say the national biotech community," said Richard A. Zakour, executive director of MdBio, a state biotechnology trade association. "Look what they've accomplished at MedImmune under his tenure."

Under Mott's leadership, MedImmune developed and marketed several products, including its best-known - the nasal-spray influenza vaccine, FluMist. Its best-selling blockbuster, the infant-respiratory treatment Synagis, has more than a billion dollars in annual sales. The company's employee count increased nearly 50 times over while he was there, and it became the state's flagship biotech, with revenue in the top 10 worldwide.

Mott also helped MedImmune weather difficult times in the 1990s, when he and his colleagues gambled on a clinical trial to save a then-failing company, and again more recently as shareholders pressured executives to sell amid flat stock prices. He ultimately piloted the company through its $15.6 billion acquisition last year by AstraZeneca. It was the largest amount ever paid for a Maryland business and left Mott with stock worth more than $100 million.

Mott declined to be interviewed yesterday through MedImmune spokeswoman Jamie Lacey. She said he will spend the summer with family and friends and take the time to figure out what challenge he wants to tackle next.

When Mott joined MedImmune in April 1992, he was its 63rd employee. The company was four years old, newly public, and had just one marketed product.

Mott had been a Wall Street investment banker in Smith Barney's health care group. At MedImmune, he was made a vice president in charge of business development and investor relations. By 1995, he was promoted to chief financial officer, then, soon after, chief operating officer.

He moved the company beyond a U.S. Food and Drug Administration rejection of one of its top drugs by launching new clinical trials. That led to FDA approval in 1996 of one of the company's most important drugs to date, a precursor to Synagis.

In 1998, the year MedImmune became profitable, he was made vice chairman of the board of directors. He became CEO in 2000.

During MedImmune's last year as a standalone company, Mott was the state's highest-paid biotech employee, with a paycheck slightly above $1 million for 2006 and a $650,000 incentive plan award.

"He just combined professionalism about the industry, about the financial and the technical side of the business that was just awesome," said Aris Melissaratos, the state's former economic development chief, who now oversees commercialization efforts at Johns Hopkins.

Melissaratos has been one of MedImmune's and the Maryland biotech industry's strongest cheerleaders. He frequently promotes the state's assets, which include two biotechnology business parks, highly educated workers and multiple academic and federal research institutions.

More than 30,000 people are employed by Maryland's 370-plus biotech companies. MedImmune has four locations throughout the state, including a manufacturing plant in Frederick that almost got away.

Other states were courting Mott in 2005, trying to get him to set up shop in their territories. Melissaratos worked with him during that time to persuade Mott to keep all of his operations in Maryland, offering a multimillion-dollar package of state and local funds and roadwork.

"He had a very innovative approach about investment and venture capital and growth," Melissaratos said. "I hope we can keep him in the state in some role, because he created a lot of value."

When the MedImmune acquisition was announced last year, many in the biotech community worried it would mean a loss for Maryland. But Mott's commitment to the company assuaged their fears.

At AstraZeneca's request, Mott agreed to stay for a year after the merger, which closed in June 2007.

At that time, Mott's nearly 5 million MedImmune stock options were cashed for about $133.5 million.

As a part of AstraZeneca, MedImmune has doubled the number of potential products in development to 100 and committed to hiring 800 people this year. The company currently has about 3,000 employees worldwide, though most of them are in Maryland.

Area business leaders expect that growth to continue under Zook, who will likely split his time between Delaware and Maryland, where he earned a bachelor's degree in science from Frostburg University.

"It's part of the new economy," said David Edgerley, secretary of the state's Department of Business and Economic Development.

He has known Mott since the early 1990s and credits him with advancing the "stature of Maryland" in the life sciences industries.

"He personally has a legacy that will live on," Edgerley said, adding that it's not over for his old friend.

Said Edgerley: "I can see David doing just about anything that he desires to do."

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