Trubion CEO Peter Thompson Steps Down, Arch’s Gillis To Step Up Temporarily

Xconomy Seattle — 

[Updated: 5:55 pm Pacific, 11/16/09] Trubion Pharmaceuticals, the Seattle-based company developing new drugs for autoimmune diseases and cancer, said today that its founding CEO, Peter Thompson, has resigned and director Steve Gillis of Arch Venture Partners will step in to fill the void as executive chairman.

Trubion (NASDAQ: TRBN) said today that Thompson is leaving his positions as chairman, CEO and president of the company to “pursue other interests,” and Gillis, a member of the board, has stepped up to serve as acting president and executive chairman of the company while it plans to start a formal search for a new CEO. The company has also shuffled a few other management slots, with Michelle Burris being promoted from chief financial officer to chief operating officer, and John Bencich, the company’s senior director of finance, receiving a promotion to take Burris’s place as CFO.

The company has struggled the past two years, since it underwhelmed investors with results from a 276-patient clinical trial of its lead drug candidate, TRU-015 for rheumatoid arthritis. Back in February, the company cut one-fourth of its workforce in an effort to hold onto its remaining cash. But the company has gotten a little bit of mojo back in recent months. It announced encouraging results from a second drug candidate, TRU-016, for leukemia in June, and parlayed that into a partnership with Redwood City, CA-based Facet Biotech (NASDAQ: FACT) that generated $20 million in upfront cash, and could be worth as much as $176 million over time. The company still has a partnership intact with Pfizer to develop the rheumatoid arthritis drug, which it inherited through its acquisition of Wyeth.

Today’s statement from Trubion didn’t say why Thompson is leaving, or what he plans to do in the future, other than that he’ll be available as a consultant to the company. He was listed as 49 years old when the company issued its latest proxy statement in April. Thompson didn’t respond immediately to a request for comment, but noted in a statement that, the company has two partnerships, and three drugs in clinical trials. “With these foundational strengths, a talented leadership team, and an upcoming year replete with significant milestones from its clinical programs, Trubion is well-positioned to realize its potential,” Thompson said in the statement. “I have great confidence in the continued ability of the Trubion team to execute its strategy.”

While Trubion conducts its search for a new CEO, Burris said the company will continue to work on executing goals within its partnerships with Pfizer and Facet Biotech.

“Peter set the company up very well,” Burris says. “We’re well positioned, and we’ll continue to execute on our programs.”

Trubion went public three years ago on enthusiasm for TRU-015, a product designed by Trubion scientists to have the same targeting capability of Roche and Biogen Idec’s rituximab (Rituxan) against inflammatory cells with a marker called CD20. But because the Trubion drug is a smaller molecule than Rituxan, it should be better at penetrating deep into tissues like bone marrow and lymph nodes, where it can stop overactive immune system B-cells from causing damage. Ed Clark of the University of Washington, an immunologist and scientific adviser to the company, once called these “leaner and meaner” drugs.

Thompson, along with Jeff Ledbetter and Ken Mohler, co-founded Trubion in November 2002, when it was originally called Genecraft. Arch Venture Partners, Frazier Healthcare Ventures, Oxford Bioscience Partners, ATP Capital, and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment all participated in a $13.6 million financing at that time. Mohler said the founders had “a shared vision of the next great immunology company in Seattle” like Immunex once was.

But Trubion has struggled to gain momentum with investors as a public company. It went public at $13 a share, and closed today at $4.13.

[Update: 5:55 pm Pacific time, 11/16/09.] Trubion disclosed Thompson’s severance package later today in a regulatory filing. He will receive one year of base pay, about $416,000, on the payroll date in January, and a lump-sum payment of about $28,000 for unused vacation time. He agreed to provide one year of consulting services, for no more than 20 hours a week, and will get paid $25,000 per month for the consulting, the company said. Thompson’s unvested stock options will immediately vest, giving him the right to buy 59,820 shares of Trubion stock, according to the document.

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