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Exelixis Mourns Loss of Two Veteran Execs

Candle Flame in Darkness

Oncology biotech Exelixis was reminded this past week that life is fragile, and as its CEO said in a statement, “Cancer knows no bounds.” The California-based company is in a stage of mourning over the loss of two veteran executives—Dr. Gisela M. Schwab, president, product development and medical affairs and CMO, and Jon Berndt, senior VP of sales.

Schwab had taken a medical leave of absence in mid-June with the promise to remain available to advise during her leave. Details were not shared on her health condition, but a loving tribute was released yesterday from the company’s CEO, Michael Morrissey, Ph.D., regarding her legacy.

“It’s not a stretch to say that over the course of a career across leading academic research institutions and biopharmaceutical companies in the U.S. and Europe, Gisela’s work helped millions of patients with cancer,” Morrissey said.

Having joined the company 15 years ago this month, Schwab ushered the company from a development-stage company to a commercial biotech. During her tenure, she guided the company through the approval of three cancer drugs, with three more in the pipeline. This April, Schwab announced the FDA had accepted Exelixis’ NDA for its first biologic to enter the clinic.

According to Morrissey, “Gisela was a joy to know and work with. She cared deeply about her colleagues and was generous with her time, knowledge, and leadership. Although she spoke softly, her words carried great weight. She had a wonderful sense of humor and was deeply admired and respected by all.” 

In 2019, Schwab was included in a “Women Who Lead in Life Sciences” program as a discussion panelist.

The company had already begun the process of searching for its next CMO this summer. Plans to honor her memory are in the works as the company sends its condolences to her husband and two treasured golden retrievers.

Less than one week before Schwab’s passing, Exelixis lost its SVP of Sales, Jon Berndt, after a lengthy battle with cancer. Berndt came to the company following 13 years at Genentech and two at Gilead Oncology.

In his six years with Exelixis, he was a key component in building out the sales operations to support the company’s launch of Cabometyx in April 2016, growing the product into an oncology franchise.

“Our commercial organization simply wouldn’t be what it is today without him,” Morrissey said. “Jon was generous in spirit, a friend to all, and his energy and passion were contagious. Driven by the need to do the right thing in every moment and to take care of his people, he raised funds for employees in need and always offered a supportive hand.”

Condolences were extended to his wife and children. Berndt was a “natural leader” who mentored not only at work but also at home, coaching his son and daughter’s sports teams.

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