September 26, 2023

Just two weeks after surviving an activist investor’s try to oust him from Illumina’s board, firm CEO Francis deSouza has resigned his roles on the sequencing behemoth, Illumina stated Sunday.

DeSouza stepped down successfully instantly from the CEO place and from the corporate’s board. He’ll stay an adviser via subsequent month. Charles Dadswell, the corporate’s normal counsel, will tackle an interim CEO function because the board searches for the corporate’s subsequent chief.

The information represents a reversal of Illumina’s current public communications about deSouza, which had emphasised the assist he had among the many firm’s buyers. Final week, Illumina appealed the U.S. Federal Commerce Fee’s order to divest Grail, a most cancers diagnostics agency Illumina acquired for $8 billion with out clearances from U.S. and European regulators.

“We thank Francis for his contributions and management, and are very enthusiastic about embarking on the subsequent chapter of Illumina’s nice journey,” Stephen MacMillan, the board chair, stated in a press release. “Illumina’s expertise stays on the forefront of DNA sequencing and has continued to set the tempo for the trade. We’re assured Illumina can proceed to execute on its objectives whereas we conduct and full a CEO search course of.”

DeSouza’s resignation was first reported by Endpoints. DeSouza had run Illumina since 2016.

“It has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve Illumina,” deSouza stated in a press release. He added: “On behalf of sufferers, clinicians, and physicians all over the place, I’d wish to thank the hundreds of Illumina staff who made it occur. We now have made nice progress collectively, however I imagine we’re nonetheless on the very starting of the impression Illumina could have on human well being by unlocking the ability of the genome.”

It was solely on Could 25 when Illumina partially blunted an effort by activist investor Carl Icahn to oust a number of administrators, together with deSouza. Shareholders voted so as to add just one candidate put ahead by Icahn, Andrew Teno, who changed John Thompson, who had been chairman. 

Along with wanting so as to add allies to the board, Icahn had crafted a situation wherein Illumina’s longtime CEO, Jay Flatley, would return to run the corporate and its present administration group, together with deSouza, can be pushed out. It was not clear if Flatley had truly agreed to take the job.

In a statement on Twitter, Icahn welcomed information of deSouza’s resignation.

“Whereas clearly I imagine the change of CEO ought to have come meaningfully sooner, it’s nonetheless a really optimistic prevalence,” he stated. He stated that he noticed deSouza’s departure as a part of a sequence of optimistic developments for Illumina, together with the board adjustments.

The crux of Icahn’s argument had been that deSouza and the Illumina board had been reckless in closing the Grail deal when each the FTC and European regulators had not cleared it and may oppose it on antitrust grounds. That has led to a protracted authorized battle throughout which Illumina owns Grail, however can not actively handle the corporate or make use of its worthwhile information.

It’s potential that European regulators might pressure Illumina to divest Grail — initially a spinout of Illumina — doubtless at a a lot decrease valuation. In April, the Federal Commerce Fee instructed Illumina to divest Grail.

Though deSouza survived the vote, Illumina’s chairman, John Thompson, didn’t. Illumina has since added two new administrators to the board.

The combat was seen as a referendum on the path of Illumina, and the vote amounted to a partial rebuke of the Grail technique.

Illumina’s core enterprise has been genome sequencing expertise, and deSouza and firm executives argued that buying Grail would assist them enter the most important potential marketplace for DNA sequencing. DeSouza’s critics contended that shifting to buy Grail with out regulatory approval amounted to an error that diverted the corporate from specializing in its sequencing expertise.  

In a letter to Illumina staff that he additionally posted on-line Sunday, deSouza stated he had instructed the board he deliberate to resign final week. The letter contains deSouza’s reflections on his time at Illumina, the corporate’s development, and the progress made in making DNA sequencing extra inexpensive and accessible. Notably, it additionally features a protection of the tried Grail acquisition.

“Grail brings medical genomics to mainstream shoppers with its revolutionary most cancers screening blood take a look at,” he wrote. “My perception within the potential of Grail’s revolutionary expertise and the advantages of merging it with Illumina stays unshakeable. It takes daring strikes and braveness to ‘enhance human well being by unlocking the ability of the genome.’ That’s Illumina’s mission, and it’s in our DNA.”