Biogen exec quits amid stock sale questions

/ Source: The Associated Press

Biopharmaceutical firm Biogen Idec Inc., maker of the recently-withdrawn multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri, said Executive Vice President and General Counsel Thomas J. Bucknum has resigned from the company, effective immediately.

The Cambridge-based company said Thursday it would not comment further on Bucknum’s sudden departure, which comes amid a regulatory inquiry into his sale of Biogen stock the same day the company says it learned of patient illnesses that led to Tysabri’s withdrawal from the market.

One patient died of a rare disease of the central nervous system, and another one who survived has been confirmed to have the disease.

Shares of Biogen Idec and its Irish partner Elan Corp. have stabilized since plummeting after the Feb. 28 announcement of Tysabri’s withdrawal. Biogen shares rose 39 cents to $39.70 in early trading Thursday on the Nasdaq Stock Market. Its 52-week low was $35.86.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating Bucknum’s sale of 89,700 Biogen shares on Feb. 18, the day the company says it learned of the illnesses and reported them to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. According to documents the company filed with the SEC, the 58-year-old Bucknum netted about $1.9 million from the sale.

A string of recent shareholder lawsuits charge Biogen violated securities laws by allegedly failing to disclose that Tysabri could affect the immune system and raise vulnerability to progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, a central nervous system disorder.

Biogen also is the defendant in an employee lawsuit filed last month charging the company with illegally discounting drugs to doctors to induce sales and failing to report drug discounts to the government.

Spokesman Jose Juves said the company would not comment on whether Bucknum’s resignation was related to the lawsuits or his stock sale. Juves also would not say whether Bucknum was asked by management to step down.

“Mr. Bucknum believes he has done nothing wrong,” said Bucknum’s attorney, Juan Marcelino of the Boston firm Greenberg Traurig. “He intends to fully cooperate with any official inquiry. In essence, he offered his resignation so that he not become a distraction to the business.”

Biogen’s chairman, William H. Rastetter, also sold shares prior to the withdrawal of Tysabri, although his sale was executed Feb. 15. Rastetter sold 120,313 shares, netting $7.7 million.

The company said Bucknum will not receive severance compensation. Bucknum started at Biogen in 1996 as chief corporate counsel, and was appointed general counsel in 1999.

Juves said Biogen named Anne Marie Cooke, former vice president and chief corporate counsel, as acting general counsel.