Oncothyreon CEO Bob Kirkman Takes Leave, Chairman Chris Henney to Fill In

Xconomy Seattle — 

[Updated: 10:28 am PT] Seattle-based Oncothyreon (NASDAQ: ONTY) is getting some new executive leadership, at least for a while, anyway.

CEO Bob Kirkman is taking what the company calls a “temporary medical leave of absence,” starting Monday, Sept. 12, according to a regulatory filing. While Kirkman is away, chairman Chris Henney will step in to take Kirkman’s place, according to the regulatory filing. The company didn’t say what kind of medical issue Kirkman is dealing with, or how long the leave of absence might last.

[Updated comment from company]. Kirkman is expected to return to Oncothyreon sometime in the fourth quarter of 2011, says Julie Rathbun, a spokeswoman for the company. The company isn’t disclosing Kirkman’s diagnosis out of respect for his privacy, she says.

Henney, who turns 70 this year, is well known as the co-founder of three of Seattle’s biggest biotech successes—Immunex, Icos, and Dendreon. The idea at Oncothyreon (on-koh-THEAR-ee-on) is similar in concept to what is being pursued at Dendreon. Oncothyreon is seeking to stimulate a patient’s immune system against cancer through a product known as Stimuvax. That drug is being developed in partnership with Germany-based Merck KGaA, and is expected to generate interim results from a pivotal lung cancer trial in the first quarter of 2012. Oncothyreon also has another cancer drug in its pipeline at an earlier stage of development.

Kirkman, who was listed at age 62 in the company’s most recent proxy filing, has been Oncothyreon’s CEO since September 2006. He previously worked at Seattle-based Xcyte Therapies, where Henney was also a member of the board.