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UPDATE 4-AbbVie taps Robert Michael to replace Gonzalez as CEO in July

(Adds analyst comment in paragraphs 3, 10-11, context on AbbVie business strategy in paragraphs 6-7)

By Patrick Wingrove

Feb 20 (Reuters) - AbbVie on Tuesday said Chief Operating Officer Robert Michael would succeed Richard Gonzalez to become the second-ever CEO of the drugmaker on July 1.

Gonzalez, 70, who has been at the company's helm since it was formed through a spin-off from Abbott in 2013, will become executive chairman of AbbVie's board once he steps down.

Guggenheim analyst Vamil Divan said in a note that the timing made sense after the company announced it was buying ImmunoGen and Cerevel, delivered better-than-expected results in 2023, and updated its longer-term forecast.

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During Gonzalez's decade as CEO, AbbVie nearly tripled its sales revenue. The company grew from $18.8 billion in 2013 to $54.32 billion last year, mostly on the back of rheumatoid arthritis drug Humira, which was the world's biggest-selling medicine as recently as 2022 with sales of about $22 billion that year.

AbbVie's shares have surged more than 400% since it was formed, giving it a market capitalization of over $300 billion as of Friday's closing price. Shares were about flat on Tuesday.

Under Gonzalez, AbbVie bought the company that developed blockbuster blood cancer treatment Imbruvica and launched Skyrizi and Rinvoq for a variety of autoimmune conditions to help lessen the Chicago-based drugmaker's dependence on Humira.

Imbruvica, Skyrizi and Rinvoq had combined sales of $15.4 billion in 2023.

Gonzalez faced scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers during his leadership, particularly over AbbVie's legal strategy to protect Humira from competition. The company built a wall of more than 130 patents around the drug that kept close copies, known as biosimilars, off the U.S. market for five years longer than in Europe.

Michael, 53, has been part of AbbVie since its formation and has also served as the drugmaker's chief financial officer. He became AbbVie's COO in 2023.

Barclays analyst Carter Gould said Michael had done a good job interacting with Wall Street, noting that Gonzalez and former AbbVie Vice Chairman Michael Severino used to be the only executives who spoke to them.

"We've since had a lot more time to interact with Michael and the senior management team, and there's a lot more comfort level with AbbVie's leadership," he said.

Gonzalez in a statement said AbbVie's board had been planning for the succession for some time and that the announcement was spurred by the drugmaker's "strong position for the long term."

When asked about succession plans during a company conference call earlier this month, Gonzalez said AbbVie would announce a change when it felt it had comfortably navigated new U.S. competition for Humira.

He said the board had been actively involved for the last 4 or 5 years to make sure that internal candidates at the company were given the necessary experience ahead of the move.

Humira faced U.S. competition for the first time last year after nine biosimilars entered the market.

AbbVie reported earlier this month that Humira's U.S. sales plunged by 35% to $12.16 billion last year, but said it expected the drug to maintain broad insurance coverage in 2024, which would help it achieve sales of $9.6 billion this year.

The company also raised its 2027 forecast for sales of Skyrizi and Rinvoq to $27 billion, up $6 billion from its previous view.

(Reporting by Patrick Wingrove in New York and Leroy Leo in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta, Franklin Paul and Bill Berkrot)