Activist Investor Alex Denner
It’s not uncommon to hear news stories using the term Activist Investor when referring to Alex Denner who has a long and successful history of orchestrating sales of biotech firms, like Waltham-based Bioverativ, and Ariad Pharmaceuticals of Cambridge. Recently Denner is focusing on another local drugmaker: Ironwood Pharmaceuticals.
Ironwood (Nasdaq: IRWD) said Monday that Sarissa Capital Management located at 660 Steamboat Road Greenwich, Connecticut informed the company that it plans to nominate Denner, its chief investment officer, to the drugmaker’s board of directors. Ironwood also stated they will consider the input of shareholders before its board makes a recommendation on the nomination. Infact, the company touted its current nine-member board, saying that their interests were “directly aligned with shareholders.”
“Ironwood Pharmaceuticals maintains open and ongoing communications amongst its shareholders and welcomes new views and opinions that may advance Ironwoods goal of creating shareholder value,” the company said. “Members of Ironwood Pharmaceuticals management team had one introductory meeting with Sarissa Capital Management representatives prior to Sarissa notifying the company of their intention to nominate a director candidate. Ironwood remains open to continuing a constructive dialogue.”
Shares of Ironwood Pharmaceuticals which makes irritable bowel syndrome drug Linzess, jumped more than 10 percent on Monday, giving it a huge market valuation of $2.4 billion.
While a representative for Sarissa Capital Management didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, Dr. Alex Denner told CNBC in an interview on Monday that he hoped “to participate in discussions to maximize value for shareholders.”
“To the extent that they state in their press release that they’re concerned with what investors want, I’ve been told that more value has been created for Ironwood shareholders today than in any single day in history,” he told CNBC.
Sarissa Capital Management
Sarissa Capital Management bought 1.65 million shares of Ironwood Pharmaceuticals in the fourth quarter of 2017. Denner, a protege of Carl Icahn, is known for gaining seats on the boards of biotech companies in which he invests, and then working behind the scenes to orchestrate new sales. Alex Denner has served as chairman of Ariad before Takeda acquired the cancer drug firm for $5.2 billion in January 2017. Denner was also a board member at Bioverativ before the hemophilia drug maker was sold to Sanofi for $11.6 billion in early 2018. Denner now sits on the boards of Cambridge-based Biogen and The Medicines Company.
With 730 employees, including 375 in Massachusetts as of last fall, Ironwood Pharmaceuticals has become one of the largest life sciences companies in the state. It is also one of just a few commercial-stage biotechs headquartered in Kendall Square. Aside from Linzess, the company sells gout treatments Duzallo and Zurampic. It reported $298 million in total revenue last year.
Denner is a power player behind some of biotech’s most high profile M&A deals: Imclone by Eli Lilly, and Genzyme by Sanofi. He later founded his own biopharma fund, Sarissa Capital Management, and is now the chief investment officer.
Sarassa Capital owns a 2.6% stake in Parsippany, NJ-based Medicines Company, which Denner’s been involved with since early 2016.