Ligand Pharmaceuticals ( LGND) said Tuesday it has hired John Higgins as chief executive, replacing Henry Blissenbach, who had been interim CEO since August.

Blissenbach will remain chairman. Higgins had been chief financial officer of Connectics, a pharmaceutical company that was acquired in December by Stiefel Laboratories, a skin-care products company.

Higgins received a warm welcome, via press release, from hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb, who is a Ligand director and second-largest shareholder with about 9.8% of shares. As Loeb began increasing his Ligand holdings in 2005, he sharply criticized the company's strategy, stock performance and former chief executive, David Robinson.

In August 2006, Robinson resigned , just five weeks before Ligand announced a change in direction . The San Diego company is moving away from marketing and developing drugs so it can focus on developing compounds that will be licensed to marketing partners.

"Ligand has gone through a major transformation over the last 12 months" Loeb said. "We are proud of our achievements and how the company is positioned today."

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