Finance Exec Leaves Ligand

The pharmaceutical maker has undergone a flurry of changes in the past few months.

Drug maker Ligand Pharmaceuticals announced this week that on May 15, Tod G. Mertes resigned as vice president and interim chief accounting officer, effective immediately. The disclosure, in a regulatory filing, gave no explanation.

The resignation took place about two weeks after the company announced that John P. Sharp was appointed vice president of finance and CFO, replacing Mertes. CFO.com could not reach Mertes at presstime.

But the departure of Mertes, a five-year veteran of the company, has been in the works since January, John Higgins, Ligand’s chief executive officer, told CFO.com. The company’s previous finance chief, Paul Maier, stepped down in January in the midst of a major restructuring. Mertes, who then agreed to serve as interim CFO, “was planning on moving on,” said Higgins.

Mertes stayed on long enough to certify the company’s 10-K in March and its first-quarter 10-Q in May, even though the company had hired a new CFO, John Sharp, in April. Because Mertes signed off on the financials under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the company had to announce his departure in an 8-K, according to Higgins. “We left on excellent terms. There’s no issue at all. So to speak, there’s no story with him leaving,” the CEO added, noting that Mertes didn’t have any job plans right now. “I think he just wants to take a break and enjoy his large family.”

Ligand has undergone a flurry of changes in the past few months. In January, the company announced that it would cut 76 percent of its work force; Higgins became chief executive officer, succeeding interim CEO Henry F. Blissenbach, who remained a director; and Ligand announced the resignations of Maier as well as its chief scientific officer, general counsel, and heads of human resources, operations, regulatory affairs, and project management.

In March, the company named four directors: Higgins, hedge fund manager David M. Knott, Elizabeth M. Greetham, and Todd C. Davis. Five directors departed, reducing the board from 11 members to 10.

The departures included activist hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb of Third Point and one of his designees, Brigette Roberts.

That month, Loeb — who previously had persuaded Ligand to sell certain assets, including the drug Avinza, to King Pharmaceuticals for $480 million — also sold 5.72 million shares in a deal that involved an equity swap with UBS. The deal enabled Third Point to have “acquired the economic benefit and accepted the economic risk” of the shares,” but not “voting or dispositive power,” according to Third Point’s filing at the time.

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