Harlan Waksal resigned from ImClone Systems Inc, a move that distanced the company from its tainted founders and fueled speculation that it may be more open to a takeover from corporate partner Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.
Waksal's resignation on Monday as chief scientific officer and director comes at a pivotal time for the company and surprised many corporate outsiders who have tracked its zig-zagging fortunes over the past two years.
Waksal, who helped launch ImClone, said he is leaving to pursue other opportunities and his decision was unrelated to the company's struggle to get its key cancer drug approved for sale in the US.
"My departure has nothing to do with any concern about Erbitux, its testing or its regulatory process," Waksal said. "I chose to leave the company now, because given the board's decision in late April to give me the duties of chief scientific officer, I feel that this is the right time in my life to pursue new challenges."
Waksal was demoted from chief executive in April amid federal tax and accounting investigations. He co-founded the company with his brother Sam Waksal in 1984.
Sam Waksal, who served as chief executive until shortly before being indicted on federal securities fraud charges last year, was sentenced last month to seven years and three months in prison and ordered to pay more than US$4 million in fines and back taxes. He pleaded guilty to charges related to tipping off his daughter to sell ImClone shares ahead of news that caused the shares to fall sharply.
The scandal also ensnared Martha Stewart, who has been charged with obstruction and conspiracy related to her sale of ImClone stock.
ImClone and Bristol -- which purchased 19.9 percent of the company as part of a US$2 billion investment in 2001 -- said they will jointly resubmit a marketing approval application to the FDA later this year.