U.S. markets close in 1 hour 41 minutes

Lonza picks Roche exec as CEO, ending year of turmoil at the top

Michael Shields
FILE PHOTO: Swiss pharmaceutical group Lonza's world’s largest dedicated cell and gene therapy facility in Houston

By Michael Shields

ZURICH (Reuters) - Lonza Group on Friday named a veteran Roche manager to become its new chief executive, as the Swiss contract drug manufacturer seeks to end a year of turmoil at the top and accelerates work to produce a possible COVID-19 vaccine.

Pierre-Alain Ruffieux, currently head of global pharma technical operations at drugmaker Roche, will join on Nov. 1, Lonza said in a statement. Before that, Ruffieux spent 12 years at Novartis, and the 50-year-old has more than 20 years of experience in the biopharmaceuticals industry.

The news comes at a critical time for Lonza as it prepares to build manufacturing facilities to make ingredients for Moderna Inc's trial COVID-19 vaccine, one of several studies being conducted at breakneck speed to try to prevent the virus, which has killed more than 390,000 people worldwide.

Ruffieux will start his new job around the same time that Lonza aims to be finishing one of its commercial production lines for the project.

His appointment also ends more than a year of tumult at the top after two previous CEOs, Richard Ridinger and Marc Funk, quit last year within eight months of each other.

Ruffieux will take the reins from chairman Albert Baehny, who joined in 2018 from plumbing equipment maker Geberit and has been interim CEO since January.

The appointment also underscores the company's focus on its fast-growing pharmaceuticals business.

Lonza is in the midst of separating Lonza Specialty Ingredients (LSI), its lagging chemicals division, into a stand-alone unit, potentially a step towards selling or spinning it off.

"Having been a customer over many years, I greatly admire Lonza's technology and people. I look forward to building on its many successes in the years to come," Ruffieux said.

Lonza shares, which have risen nearly a third this year, were down 0.3% at 0728 GMT.

(Reporting by Michael Shields and Josephine Mason; Editing by Edmund Blair and Mark Potter)