Life Sciences Insight

Exelixis stunned by death of Chief Medical Officer Schwab, sales lead Berndt

Oncology biotech Exelixis is mourning the deaths of two key members of its company after losing its sales leader and CMO in the same week.

Gisela Schwab, M.D., the company’s president for product development and medical affairs and chief medical officer, “passed away over the weekend,” the company said. Exelixis did not note a cause of death.

This came just a week after Jon Berndt, its senior vice president of sales, passed away last Wednesday “following a lengthy battle with cancer.”

Berndt, who had been at the company for six years, previously led the sales team for Gilead’s blood cancer drug Zydelig. Coming to Exelixis in 2015, he helped sell liver, kidney and thyroid cancer drug Cabometyx for the company.

Schwab had been on a medical leave of absence since the middle of June. She started out at the company all the way back in 2006, having served as CMO for an incredible 15 years, helping turn the R&D biotech into a commercial biopharma with its tyrosine kinase inhibitor Cabometyx.

“All of us at Exelixis are deeply, deeply saddened by Gisela’s passing,” said Michael Morrissey, Ph.D., its CEO and president.

“A brilliant oncologist turned clinical development professional, Gisela was a remarkable leader, mentor and friend. She was beloved by her colleagues, who were inspired by her strategic thinking, tireless work ethic and above all, her unwavering dedication to improving care and outcomes for patients with cancer.

“Losing Gisela and Jon in the same week, both of whom were life sciences industry veterans, is a reminder of our fragility and that cancer knows no bounds. Like Gisela, Jon was a wonderful friend and colleague, and his passing is an enormous loss to all who knew him and to the Exelixis family.”