MannKind's (NASDAQ:56400P706) founder and namesake, Alfred Mann, retired from his role as CEO on Friday and will transition to executive chairman of the company's board of directors. The biotech's president and chief operating officer Hakan Edstrom will take over as CEO and keep his president title.
How much will this affect the operations of the company? My guess is very little.
Publicly, it's looked like Edstrom was already running the company. Consider the number of times each executive talked on MannKind's third quarter conference call.
You could even argue that the company might be more efficient without Mann getting in the way. He's no doubt very passionate about MannKind, but that doesn't necessarily make him the best leader.
Witness this classic moment from between Mann and CFO Matthew Pfeffer when asked about what MannKind's marketing partner Sanofi (NASDAQ:SNY) got in the partnership the two companies established last year:
Mann: "They also have rights to our new process."
Pfeffer: "We've not disclosed that yet, Al."
We may not have to wait long to see Edstrom's plan for the company; MannKind is presenting at the JP Morgan Healthcare conference on Wednesday. Al Mann is listed as the speaker, but hopefully that switches to Edstrom with his fresh new title.
I'd expect the majority of the presentation to be spent on the company's inhaled insulin device, Afrezza, but since Sanofi is in charge of the launch, we aren't likely to get any new information.
After Afrezza's FDA approval and the establishment of a partnership with Sanofi, MannKind hinted at plans to use Technosphere, the inhalation technology used in Afrezza, to create other inhaled drugs. But it's kept under wraps which drug might be its next candidate. If the company wants to make a splash at JP Morgan, a big announcement of its next drug candidate would be a good way to draw some attention.
One obvious potential candidate would be a pain medication because of the rapid onset of Technosphere drugs. MannKind might also look at making an injected drug more convenient through inhalation, but since inhalation creates potential side effects, increasing efficacy is probably an easier path to approval than increasing convenience.
Mann has been the company's biggest funder, making his stepping aside a potential issue if he was losing interest in the company. MannKind obviously knows that could be a worry for investors and made it clear he's not really going anywhere:
"Mr. Mann intends to remain engaged with the company in business matters, including those relating to development and financing of MannKind's future therapies."
Even if that wasn't said, I doubt investors would have much to worry about. As the company's largest shareholder, Mann obviously needs to have a strong influence in the direction of the company and isn't likely to let it go bankrupt.
Mann has sold nine of the 14 companies he previously started -- that's how he became a billionaire -- so one has to think that's the most likely exit strategy for Mann. While I'm sure he would have liked to broker a sale as CEO, at this point, a buyout is probably a few years away at best. It's just too hard to value the company until Afrezza's launch trajectory has been established. Developing another drug or two using Technosphere could help find a buyer too.