Business

New Cubist Pharmaceuticals chief executive will be Robert J. Perez

Company handout
Robert J. Perez.

Cubist Pharmaceuticals Inc. said Monday it plans to install a new chief executive, a surprise move that raised questions about whether the Lexington company will keep expanding as the leading US maker of antibiotics or become a takeover target.

Robert J. Perez, 50, a Cubist veteran who was named chief operating officer in 2007 and president in 2012, will take over the top job from Michael W. Bonney on Jan. 1. Bonney, 56, has led the company for 12 years, during which time Cubicin — its lead treatment for bacterial infections — grew into a blockbuster drug that generated more than $1 billion in sales last year.

“The good news is we’re well-positioned for success,” Perez said. “Mike has done a great job taking us from a struggling biotech to where we are now.”

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Cubist won Food and Drug Administration approval in June to sell Sivextro, an antibiotic that fights hard-to-treat skin infections. And the company is awaiting US and European rulings on its experimental antibiotic ceftolozane/tazobactam, which treats urinary tract and intra-abdominal infections. That drug eventually could generate global sales surpassing those of Cubicin.

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Perez’s challenges will be taking Cubist to a new stage as a multiproduct global company and managing it through the expiration of Cubicin patents at the end of the decade, said Jason Kantor, biotechnology analyst with financial firm Credit Suisse in San Francisco. Kantor said Cubist was grooming Perez for the new job and he predicted a smooth transition.

The expansion of its portfolio of anti-infective medicines has fueled market speculation that Cubist may be a takeover candidate.

The Telegraph newspaper of Great Britain reported Sunday that Irish-based drug maker Shire plc, which has its US headquarters down the road from Cubist in Lexington, may be preparing a bid for Cubist.

Shire, which makes drugs to treat rare diseases, may be scrambling for a new strategy after biopharma giant AbbVie Inc. formally terminated its planned $55 billion buyout of Shire on Monday. AbbVie reversed course after the Treasury Department disclosed rules making it harder for US companies to reduce their corporate taxes by merging with foreign companies.

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Perez declined to discuss a potential acquisition or whether Cubist would be open to an overture from Shire, whose chief executive, Flemming Ornskov, is based in Lexington.

“As a matter of policy, we don’t comment on the rumors or speculation that occur regularly in this industry,” he said.

Credit Suisse analyst Kantor said Bonney and his team always situated Cubist as an independent company, and he didn’t expect that to change. “Cubist has been run as the acquirer, not the target, and that has been a good strategy for them,” Kantor said, adding. “Could the tables turn? Yes.”

The designated new chief executive, who grew up in the Los Angeles area and earned a business degree from the University of California Los Angeles, said he will be focused on expanding Cubist’s product line and operations worldwide.

“Any time you have a transition like this you take a pause to think about what’s working and what changes need to be made,” said Perez, who like Bonney previously worked at biotech giant Biogen Idec Inc. “Our strategy is to continue to build the organization. And I truly believe that with the foundation Mike has put in place, we have the potential to grow to be as big as a Biogen.”

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Cubist said Monday that Bonney will remain with the company as its non-executive board chairman after stepping down as chief executive in January. The company also said Kenneth M. Bate, the current chairman of the board, will become lead independent director.

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