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The stock price of Valeant Pharmaceuticals International, Inc. is shown on a screen above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly after the opening bell in New York, December 28, 2015.LUCAS JACKSON/Reuters

Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc.'s former chief financial officer has been tapped to lead the company he calls "family."

Howard Schiller was named Valeant's interim chief executive officer on Wednesday as CEO Michael Pearson remains in hospital being treated for a severe case of pneumonia.

Mr. Schiller's willingness to return to the Laval, Que.-based pharmaceutical company he helped grow through acquisitions from late 2011 to mid-2015 has been expressed before. Late last year – as the stock plummeted under fire from governments, short sellers and agitated investors – he offered his assistance.

"When your family is attacked, you go home. I told Mike I was willing to help," Mr. Schiller said in a December interview in which he reflected on Valeant's crisis and recovery plan.

As interim CEO, Mr. Schiller will oversee Valeant's efforts to recover from a period in which the stock price fell more than 70 per cent between mid-September and mid-November of 2015. Reaction to the news of Mr. Schiller's role was muted, with the stock price up 1.5 per cent on Wednesday.

Analysts, such as Prakash Gowd of CIBC World Markets, said the move was slightly positive – both because of Mr. Schiller's experience with Mr. Pearson and the company, and because it adds a measure of clarity to the reporting structure during Mr. Pearson's time away.

"Pearson has always been considered the mastermind behind Valeant, and while his absence can be viewed as a negative, especially during a critical period of transition, we believe that Mr. Schiller can leverage his past leadership experience with Valeant in fulfilling his interim CEO role," Mr. Gowd wrote in a note to clients Wednesday.

Mr. Schiller expressed support for Mr. Pearson's direction in December, saying the company will get back to making deals once it has paid down some debt. He added that there was a "complete disconnect between … the issues that were raised, and what was really happening at the company."

Mr. Schiller knows the ins and outs of Valeant's U.S. head office in New Jersey from his time as CFO, which followed a 24-year career at Goldman Sachs.

He brought Valeant experience in global health care deal making and became an important participant in the company's active acquisition approach – Valeant has done about 150 deals since Mr. Pearson took over in 2008.

Mr. Schiller and Mr. Pearson worked closely on many projects. When Valeant acquired gastrointestinal disorders drug specialist Salix Pharmaceuticals Ltd. for $10.4-billion (U.S.) last year, Mr. Schiller and Mr. Pearson went out together to raise money and make verbal commitments to bondholders that Valeant would reduce its debt significantly before they went back out to raise more.

In April, 2015, Mr. Schiller surprised the markets when he said he'd step down as CFO when a successor was found. He remained a board member.

Then, a wave of criticism of Valeant's strategy and business operations swept through in the fall. The drug maker was already dealing with questioning of its drug-pricing approach when short-seller Citron Research published a report alleging wrongdoing at Valeant's specialty pharmacies. That's when Mr. Schiller made the call to Mr. Pearson. "I said: 'If I can help, let me know. Even if it's just going out and getting everyone dinner,'" he said.

The pressure that Valeant faced was intense for employees and leaders alike.

"It was a lot. The whole world seemed to turn its attention to the company," Mr. Schiller said, adding that Mr. Pearson showed strength in the face of personal attacks.

Mr. Schiller is unlikely to make big changes to the course Mr. Pearson plotted before the holidays. Mr. Schiller said in a statement Wednesday that he would continue to implement company's existing strategic plan.

Valeant also said Wednesday that board member and former pharma CEO Robert Ingram, who played a key role in recruiting Mr. Pearson, would become interim chairman of the board.

"While Mike's illness was sudden and unexpected, our strong management team has stepped in to keep our businesses on track and thriving," Mr. Ingram said in a statement.

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