Biogen Idec Nabs Doug Williams as R&D Head, Steve Holtzman as BD Chief To Fill Out Management Team

Xconomy Boston — 

Biogen Idec, after a long search, has found a new scientist to spearhead its R&D group—Doug Williams, the former CEO of Seattle-based ZymoGenetics.

The Weston, MA-based biotech company (NASDAQ: BIIB), the world’s largest maker of multiple sclerosis drugs, also added another heavy hitter from the Boston biotech scene to its management team—Steve Holtzman, the former CEO of Cambridge, MA-based Infinity Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: INFI). Williams takes the title of executive vice president of R&D, while Holtzman will be the executive vice president of corporate development. Both will report to Biogen’s relatively new CEO, George Scangos.

Scoring two seasoned executives in key departments represents the latest step in the new direction Biogen has taken since Scangos took the reins last summer. Biogen has been operating without an executive head of R&D since the departure of Cecil Pickett in2009, at a time when billionaire investor Carl Icahn was complaining mightily about the company’s failure to innovate in recent years. Scangos hammered home the point immediately when he took over in July, saying that R&D has to improve. Biogen Idec, a company with $4 billion in annual revenue, hasn’t introduced a new FDA approved product of its own since 2004.

Williams, 52, has a long history as a scientist and biotech industry R&D leader. He was the chief technology officer at Seattle-based Immunex when it developed etanercept (Enbrel), a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis that’s expected to generate $8 billion in worldwide sales by 2014. He went on to senior R&D posts at Seattle Genetics and ZymoGenetics before advancing to the CEO’s role in January 2009. He hit the free agent market last fall after ZymoGenetics agreed to be taken over by Bristol-Myers Squibb for $885 million.

Doug Williams

Doug Williams

Holtzman, 56, has an equally long record on the business side of biotech. He was the chief business officer of Cambridge, MA-based Millennium Pharmaceuticals during its go-go genomics days, before he left to be founder and CEO of Infinity Pharmaceuticals, a cancer drug developer. Holtzman handed over day-to-day operating responsibility of Infinity a year ago to new CEO Adelene Perkins.

Essentially, Williams, Holtzman, and Scangos have all grown up together in the biotech industry over the years, even though they never worked together at the same company.

“I am delighted to welcome Doug Williams and Steve Holtzman to Biogen Idec,” Scangos said in a statement. “I have known Doug and Steve for a long time and have great respect for their capabilities, accomplishments and character. Doug has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to build and lead high quality research groups and, importantly, to aggressively focus the science and transform promising research into products. Steve is one of the most thoughtful and creative business people I know and has demonstrated over the years the ability to build great organizations and create innovative collaborative structures that meet the needs of both partners. Steve and Doug represent the completion of what I believe is now an excellent management team.”

Michael Lytton, who had been in charge of Biogen’s business development efforts, will be leaving the company.

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