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UPDATE 1-Caligan pushes ahead with board challenge at Anika, nominates two directors

(Updates with statement from company)

By Svea Herbst-Bayliss

NEW YORK, March 27 (Reuters) - Activist investor Caligan Partners has nominated two director candidates to Anika Therapeutics' seven member board, according to a regulatory filing on Monday, signaling plans to push ahead with a board challenge at the biotechnology company.

The investment firm, which owns a roughly 4% stake and is one of Anika's 10 biggest shareholders, named former Johnson & Johnson executive Gary Fischetti and former healthcare technology executive and experienced board member James Hogan as its candidates, according to the filing.

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Anika board directors Susan Vogt and John Henneman will stand for re-election this year.

Caligan is urging the company to consider strategic alternatives including a full sale.

The company said in a statement that it "fundamentally repositioned Anika to be a global leader in joint preservation" and that it has "expanded Anika’s market opportunity from $1 billion to more than $8 billion today."

Investors will be asked to vote for directors at the annual meeting later this year unless the two sides reach a compromise.

Anika is best known for its viscosupplement portfolio, including Monovisc and Orthovisc, marketed by Johnson & Johnson . This month, the company reported a net loss of $14.9 million for 2022 and a net loss of $4.9 million for the fourth quarter last year. Revenue climbed 6% during the full year and was up 11% in the fourth quarter.

"We delivered strong operational and financial performance in the fourth quarter, building momentum for Anika's multi-year growth strategy," Anika CEO Cheryl Blanchard said on the earnings call.

The stock price fell after earnings and traded at $28.16 on Monday, down 4.4% since the start of the year.

Caligan declined to comment. The investment firm specializes in healthcare investing and nominated a slate of directors in September 2019 at AMAG Pharmaceuticals where it settled for two board seats. Within a year of the settlement, AMAG had replaced its chief executive officer, rationalized operating expenses and was bought by Covis Pharma in late 2020. (Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Josie Kao)