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Valeant’s CEO Is Feeling Better, But Board May Not Want Him Back

Pershing Square's Bill Ackman and Valeant Pharmaceuticals International's Michael Pearson InterviewPershing Square's Bill Ackman and Valeant Pharmaceuticals International's Michael Pearson Interview
Michael Pearson, CEO of Valeant Pharmaceuticals.Photograph by Bloomberg — Getty Images

Michael Pearson, the CEO of embattled drug company Valeant Pharmaceuticals (VRX), is finally feeling better after a nasty bout with pneumonia.

Pearson has been on sick leave from the company since he was hospitalized with a “severe case” of the illness on Christmas, just months after Valeant’s stock price was hammered by was accusations of accounting fraud and unreasonable drug price increases.

Now, Pearson has recovered and is feeling healthy enough to return to work—but Valeant’s board is split on whether or not to take him back, CNBC reported Thursday, citing unnamed sources. After Valeant’s shares started the day up on Friday, they fell 3% later in the afternoon.

In January, Valeant appointed its former CFO Howard Schiller to serve as its interim CEO in Pearson’s absence. Later that month, Pearson said he didn’t know how long his recovery would take, after complications kept him in the hospital longer than expected, but that “I look forward to being back at work when able.”

His plans to return are now up in the air, as investors debated whether the company would be better off with or without him. In a research note cited by Barron’s, Nomura analysts Shibani Malhotra and Austin Nelson speculated that Valeant’s board may have leaked the news about Pearson’s uncertain return in order to gauge the market’s reaction—or because they really don’t want him to come back.

“We are pleased that Mike Pearson’s health is improving,” a Valeant spokesperson told Fortune. But she declined to comment on the board’s discussions, or whether Pearson would be present on Valeant’s investor call scheduled for Monday morning, simply reiterating that “Mike remains on a medical leave of absence.”

If Pearson does not return to the company, some investors may read that as a sign that the board believes him to be implicated in the wrongdoing of which Valeant has been accused. But Schiller may not remain the permanent replacement either, as he was responsible for the company’s financials during a problematic time that ultimately led to Valeant’s admission this week that it would have to restate earnings. The Nomura analysts wrote that Pearson’s permanent departure would damage Valeant’s “credibility,” and that the company would need to hire an outsider in his place.