Cempra CEO Prabha Fernandes leaves abruptly

  • Signs for push-out forces
  • After almost eleven years on the job
  • Laud, praise and thanks for Fernandes
  • Dave Zaccardelli takes over in the interim

(management-change.com) — Chapel Hill, North Carolina, December 12, 2016 — Prabha Fernandes, chief executive of Cempra, leaves. It is an abrupt change. As announced by Cempra, Inc. in a news release and in a regulatory filing published on Monday, December 12, 2016, Prabhavathi B. (Prabha) Fernandes has already left the post as Chief Executive Officer at the clinical-stage pharmaceutical company in a surprising move after almost eleven years on the job, effective December 09, 2016.

It is the end of an era.

Fernandes’ duties are taken over in the interim by Dave Zaccardelli, most recently Chief Operating Officer at United Therapeutics.

Already a director

Zaccardelli is already a director of Cempra. Often a board member is a last resort, someone who is turned to in desperation when a company can’t find other suitable candidates. On the other hand, directors-turned-executives represent a blend of outsider and insider.

They don’t have the constraints of a pure insider when it comes to leading painful changes or making unpopular decisions, and they have more company knowledge than a pure outsider.

Having been a director, Zaccardelli understands the expectations and dynamics of the board and has knowledge of Cempra’s organization, finances and strategy.

The move is part of a management shake-up.

Cempra has promoted David Moore to the newly created position of president and chief commercial officer, effective immediately.

No reason given

In the announcement, Cempra did not explicitly explain the obviously compelling reason for Fernandes’ sudden move, leaving room for speculation.

Alarm signal

Generally speaking, it is often a wake-up call for investors when a CEO leaves the position abruptly and without a reasonable explanation.


Cempra said: “Dr. Prabha Fernandes, a co-founder of Cempra who has served as president and CEO since the company’s inception in 2006, has announced her retirement as president and CEO and from the board of directors, effective immediately, and will continue to serve as a scientific consultant to the company.”

Fernandes retired as President and Chief Executive Officer as well as a director of Cempra, effective on December 9, 2016.

Share price decline

The change follows a sharp decline in the share price of Cempra, Inc. since November 02, 2016.

Chaired by Garheng Kong

Cempra, Inc. is chaired by Garheng Kong.

Garheng Kong is the Managing Partner of Sofinnova HealthQuest, a healthcare focused investment firm, and has been a healthcare investor since 2000.

On the job as CEO since 2006

Prabhavathi Fernandes founded Cempra in January 2006 and has served as President and Chief Executive Officer and a Member of the Board of Directors since then.

In 2012, she led the initial public offering and listing on Nasdaq for Cempra, and has successfully raised over half a billion dollars to date for the company, building value for its investors and taking its first antibacterial product candidate, solithromycin, from the bench to the NDA with the plan to launch the product in the U.S.

She has licensed solithromycin in Japan to Toyama/Fujifilm. In addition, she has successfully obtained funding from BARDA, the biodefense arm of Health and Human Services in the U.S. for the development of solithromycin for use in pediatric patients and for biodefense.

She has also established partnerships with the NIAID for the development of solithromycin.

Her career of more than four decades has focused on anti-infectives, first in clinical microbiology and infectious diseases and then in pharmaceutical discovery and development.

Prior to Cempra, Fernandes held executive leadership positions at pharmaceutical corporations including Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical Research Institute, Abbott Laboratories and The Squibb Institute for Medical Research.

During these years she was directly involved in the development of antibiotics, four of which have been approved with one, clarithromycin, achieving sales over a billion dollars.

After leaving Bristol-Myers Squibb in 1997, she founded and led three biotechnology and CRO companies and was President and Chief Executive Officer of DarPharma, Ricerca and Small Molecule Therapeutics.

Fernandes has served on the U.S. Congressional Panel for Assessment of Impact of Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria and on the American Society for Microbiology Advisory Panel for Antibiotic Resistance.

She has continued to work on policy matters to help in combating antibiotic resistance with IDSA and the Anti-infective Working Group.

She serves on the editorial board of several journals, was a member of the Product Development working group for Biodefense for the NIAID, and was an Advisory Board Member of Optimer Pharmaceuticals, Inc. as well as the Supervisory Board of GPC Biotech.

She has authored over 250 publications and numerous reviews and book chapters.

She received her Ph.D. in microbiology from Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia.


As a general rule, when a top leader announces to step aside with no permanent successor in place, it’s a sign that the move was unexpected and too early.

Signs for push-out forces

It is not completely certain what forces eventually triggered Prabha Fernandes’ move.

The Push-out Score™ determined by management-change.com suggests that push-out forces may have contributed to the management change.

Read the full story in the management-change.com report 47.2016 ($).