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President of Rockland’s EMD Serono resigns

James Hoyes also was head of US operations at the division of German drug giant Merck Serono

Two years after being promoted to president and head of US operations at EMD Serono in Rockland, James Hoyes has resigned unexpectedly, effective Sept. 30.

EMD Serono, the US division of German drug giant Merck Serono, gave no reason Friday for the departure of Hoyes. In a statement, the company thanked Hoyes for his leadership and contributions, saying he has “decided to pursue other professional opportunities.”

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The departure comes less than a month after Merck Serono’s corporate parent, Merck KGaA based in Darmstadt, Germany, reported sales were down 4 percent at the pharmaceutical group. That is partly because its multiple sclerosis drug Rebif — a flagship product marketed by EMD Serono — has been facing tougher competition from oral treatments such as Tecfidera, sold by Weston’s Biogen Idec Inc., and Gilenya, sold by Novartis AG of Switzerland.

Hoyes, who joined EMD Serono in 2004 and previously served as chief commercial officer, was not available to discuss his resignation, a company spokesman said. Belen Garijo, Merck Serono chief operating officer, who was visiting Rockland Friday, also was not available to talk about what happened.

The company’s statement said a search is underway to replace Hoyes as Merck Serono’s top US pharmaceutical executive. “The US is a key growth area for Merck KGaA, so the company wants to find the right person to fill the job as soon as possible,” EMD Serono spokesman Stephen McGettrick said. “This is a top priority for them.”

EMD Serono has about 900 employees in Massachusetts divided between the headquarters complex in Rockland and a new research and development center in Billerica.

The change in leadership comes as Merck Serono — which is often confused with the unrelated US drug maker Merck & Co. — has been trying to raise its profile in the United States even as it restructures European operations and closes a site in Geneva.

Stefan Oschmann, Merck Serono chief executive, visited Cambridge in May to say the German company was boosting worldwide venture capital outlays from $51.4 million to $128.6 million, establishing a formal venture arm, and scouting for potential portfolio companies in the Boston area. It also owns life sciences toolmaker EMD Millipore in Billerica.

“Boston is, for our company, right after Germany, the second-largest site we have anywhere in the world,” Oschmann said in May. “It’s an absolute no-brainer that a company of our size, our global reach, and our ambition would have a presence here in Boston.”

Robert Weisman can be reached at robert.weisman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.
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