The board of directors of Jersey City, N.J.-based Optimer Pharmaceuticals has appointed its chairman, Dr. Henry McKinnell, chief executive officer. McKinnell was Pfizer's CEO and chairman from 2001 to 2006 and was with Pfizer from 1971 until his retirement in 2007.
The board also appointed Mark Auerbach, who has been an Optimer director since 2005, lead independent director.
McKinnell replaces Pedro Lichtinger, who has been Optimer's president and CEO since May 2010. Lichtinger agreed to step down in connection with the announced change in management. Kurt Hartman also agreed to step down and Meredith Schaum has been appointed to replace him as general counsel and chief compliance officer.
The independent directors recommended to the board that management changes were appropriate following their review of prior compliance, record keeping and conflict-of-interest issues, including issues arising from the conduct of Optimer personnel who were the subject of the changes in management and leadership announced in April 2012. The previously disclosed investigations of these issues by the relevant U.S. authorities are ongoing and the company continues to cooperate with those authorities.
The board also has commenced a process to explore a full range of strategic alternatives. In conjunction with that review, the company has adopted a Rights Plan, expiring Feb. 15, 2014. The Rights Plan is designed to protect shareholder rights while the strategic review is being conducted.
McKinnell said, "While the board is conducting a comprehensive review of strategic alternatives to maximize shareholder value, I look forward to working with the management team to continue to increase the utilization of DIFICID."
Optimer reported gross product sales of $21.3 million for the fourth quarter of 2012 and of $74.4 million for the year ended Dec. 31, 2012. It posted net income of $0.02 per share, on a basic and diluted basis, for the fourth quarter of 2012, and a net loss of $0.79 per share for the year ended Dec. 31, 2012.
McKinnell currently serves as chairman of the board of Moody's and chairman of the board of the Accordia Global Health Foundation. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Connecticut Science Center and is a member of the Academic Alliance for AIDS Care and Prevention in Africa. He previously was director of ExxonMobil and John Wiley & Sons.