British drugmaker settles age-discrimination suit |
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British drugmaker settles age-discrimination suit

Published on Thursday, 01 Aug 2013

LONDON/SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA: Shire said it settled a lawsuit by Jeffrey Jonas, the former head of the British drugmaker’s Regenerative Medicine (RM) unit, alleging age discrimination and wrongful discharge.

Adi Mohanty, a Shire executive, is running the unit on an acting basis, said Ben Atwell, a spokesman for Shire at FTI Consulting. Jonas, 60, sued the company, former chief executive officer Angus Russell and Russell’s successor, Flemming Ornskov, in May, alleging he was discriminated against because of his age and was effectively forced out.

Mohanty, 46, is the third executive to lead RM, which markets the Dermagraft treatment for diabetic foot ulcers, since Shire – which has management offices in Basingstoke, England – acquired the product for US$750 million in 2011. Revenue plunged after the US Justice Department last year investigated the unit’s sales practices, leading Shire to replace most of the sales force.

“The main priority we have right now is to return Dermagraft to sales growth,” Ornskov said. “We have to be more moderately optimistic, both about peak sales and about the total opportunity of regenerative medicine.”

Shire didn’t disclose terms of the settlement. A call to Jonas’s lawyers at Mayer Brown in Los Angeles before regular business hours wasn’t immediately returned.

Mohanty was senior vice-president of technical operations at RM and previously worked in the company’s Human Genetic Therapies unit and at Transkaryotic Therapies, which Shire bought for US$1.6 billion in 2005.

After the Justice Department investigation, Shire in November named Jonas, the head of research and development for Specialty Pharmaceuticals, to lead RM. The unit was created out of Advanced BioHealing, the maker of Dermagraft, which Shire bought in 2011. He replaced Kevin Rakin, who had led Advanced BioHealing since 2007.

Jonas alleged in the lawsuit, filed in US District Court in San Diego, that Russell failed to tell him the details of the government investigation before he accepted Russell’s offer of the job. Jonas turned down other opportunities and moved from Philadelphia to San Diego, where RM is based, to take the position, he said.

After accepting the job, he learned that Shire planned to replace Russell with Ornskov, according to the lawsuit. Ornskov’s appointment was announced on October 25.

Jonas was then stripped of responsibilities before being placed on administrative leave, he alleged in the lawsuit.

“Ornskov began to strip away Jonas’s rights and responsibilities,” according to the complaint. “He did so as part of an express plan to replace current senior managers over 40 with younger employees. Shire and Ornskov have published derogatory and baseless comments about the reasons for putting Jonas on leave, including that Jonas had engaged in ‘disruptive behaviour that is harmful to the business’.”

Dermagraft ran into problems shortly after Shire bought Advanced BioHealing. Shire in 2011 abandoned efforts to develop Dermagraft for leg ulcers after a failed clinical trial. In this year’s second quarter, Dermagraft sales plunged 57 per cent to US$22 million.

“It became clear to Jonas that he had been promoted to be president of RM to put a good face on a messy, problematic situation in the RM business, rather than to use his skills to build the division, as senior management had previously represented,” according to the complaint.

Shire, the world’s biggest maker of pills for attention deficit disorder, has lost other top managers since last year. Sylvie Gregoire, former head of the Human Genetic Therapies division, left at the end of March. Mike Cola, head of speciality pharmaceuticals, left in April 2012.

Shire took a US$199 million charge in the first quarter this year to write down the value of RM.

Ornskov told analysts at a private meeting that divesting Dermagraft wasn’t out of the question, a source said.


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