​Michelle Dipp to step aside as OvaScience CEO in July

OvaScience, one of just a handful of woman-led biotech companies in the Boston area, will have a man in the CEO role as of this summer.

Michelle Dipp, 39, who co-founded the Waltham-based developer of treatments for infertility in 2011, will step aside as CEO in July, the company announced this morning. Taking her place will be Harald F. Stock, 47, a board member at the company since 2013 who until September 2015 was also president and CEO of ArjoHuntleigh, a Swedish medical device company with worldwide revenues of $1 billion.

Dipp has been named executive chairwoman of OvaScience, a role in which she will “will work closely with Dr. Stock to evolve the company’s corporate strategy and will focus on business development,” according to a company statement.

The change in management is being announced at the end of a tough year for OvaScience (Nasdaq: OVAS), which saw its share price increase more than any other biotech in the state in 2014 but saw it decrease just as quickly in 2015. The decline last year — about 78 percent over the course of 2015 to give the company a market value of $257 million as of yesterday — was due to several reasons.

Those include slow revenue growth from the company’s only marketed fertility treatment, Augment, as well as a lack of definitive trial data proving the effectiveness of the procedure, in which a woman’s eggs are implanted with new mitochondria in an attempt to make them more likely to be fertilized.

Despite a number of healthy births resulting from the procedure, as well as several analyses of small datasets over the course of the past year which show it helps women get pregnant, the company became a magnet for short investors who hoped to profit off stock declines.

Another factor working against OvaScience has been the fact that the FDA has not provided a clear pathway for the procedure to be approved in the U.S., so all treatments to date have been provided overseas.

The fact that the new CEO has extensive experience in European markets may be one reason for the CEO switch.

When I contacted Dipp late Tuesday to ask if she had plans for a new biotech startup, she did not directly answer, saying in an email that she is “committed to OvaScience for the long-term.”

“My focus is to ensure that as many patients as possible have access to our fertility treatments,” she wrote. “I will be working hand-in-hand with Harald Stock to drive the company to the next stage of growth, and I am deeply committed to serving patients throughout the world struggling with infertility.”

Dipp remains one of the company’s largest shareholders, with more than 987,000 shares as of Dec. 31, according to federal filings. Today those shares are worth $9.3 million. She never took a salary as CEO, choosing instead to be paid only in stock and stock options.

Asked about that decision last April, Dipp told me, “I thought about Ovascience and the kind of company I wanted to create and the kind of CEO I wanted to be… Really, I just wanted this to be a demonstration of my commitment to the company.” Dipp also regularly bought shares in the company at market price on top of those received as compensation.

In September, Dipp was named by Fortune Magazine as one of its “40 Under 40” annual ranking of “the most influential young people in business.” She was also named a “Woman to Watch” in August by Bizwomen, a sister publication of the Boston Business Journal.

Other prominent local biotech firms with female CEOs include Infinity Pharmaceuticals, Editas Medicine and Tokai Pharmaceuticals.

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