By Greg Roumeliotis
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Intellia Therapeutics Inc Chief Executive John Leonard, who U.S. drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb Co said last week was nominated by hedge fund Starboard Value LP to sit on its board, is not affiliated with the effort, an Intellia spokeswoman said on Thursday.
"He is not involved. He has a very demanding job as our CEO and he is on other boards as well," Jennifer Mound Smoter, Intellia senior vice president for external affairs and communications, said in an interview after Reuters contacted Leonard.
Smoter declined to offer an explanation on how Leonard's name was included in Starboard's slate of five directors to challenge Bristol-Myers' board. Starboard declined to comment.
Leonard is a seasoned pharmaceutical industry executive, having previously held senior positions at Abbott Laboratories and Abbvie Inc.
Starboard's four other board nominees are Starboard Chief Executive Jeffrey Smith, Shulman Family Ventures managing partner Steven Shulman, Tyree & D'Angelo Partners chairman James Tyree, and Water Street Healthcare partner Janet Vergis, according to a regulatory filing by Bristol-Myers.
Starboard's immediate goal is to muster enough Bristol-Myers shareholder support to shoot down the company's $74 billion deal to acquire biotech Celgene Corp, the New York-based fund said on Thursday. If it succeeds, it will use the slate to challenge Bristol-Myers' board, Starboard added.
Starboard reported on Thursday it owned 4.4 million shares, or 0.3 percent, of Bristol's shares.
A top Bristol-Myers shareholder, Wellington Management, came out against the Celgene deal on Wednesday, criticizing it as too risky and expensive.
Bristol-Myers on Thursday defended the Celgene deal, through which it hopes to create a market leader in the lucrative treatment of cancer by combining two of the world's biggest-selling portfolios of drugs that treat the disease, as well as adding assets in immunology and inflammation.
Starboard has a track record of opposing deals. It tried to block Virginia-based meat giant Smithfield Foods' sale to Chinese company Shuanghui International in 2013, as well as aircraft component maker Rockwell Collins Inc's acquisition of B/E Aerospace two years ago. Both deals were done.
Starboard has been seeking to burnish its credentials in the pharmaceutical sector. Perrigo Company Plc shares have lost more than a third of their value since the drug maker gave Starboard board representation in 2017.
Assertio Therapeutics Inc, previously known as Depomed, explored a sale three years ago under pressure from Starboard but did not reach any deal. Its shares have lost half their value since then.
(This story corrects name of James Tyree in paragraph 5)
(Reporting by Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Additional reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)