10 years and $100M-plus lat­er, GSK shut­ters a Chi­na R&D site dur­ing a ma­jor pipeline over­haul

Mon­cef Slaoui

A decade ago, then GSK R&D chief Mon­cef Slaoui proud­ly un­veiled a $100 mil­lion plan to build a big neu­ro­sciences re­search group in Shang­hai. The project called for hir­ing 1,000 sci­en­tists in six years as the phar­ma gi­ant sought to make ma­jor ad­vances on Alzheimer’s, Parkin­son’s and MS.

“We don’t want to give them the crumbs,” Slaoui told the Fi­nan­cial Times, point­ed­ly re­ject­ing the no­tion that cheap la­bor had led them to the move. “It’s about dif­fer­ent sci­ence. We will link our fate to their fate. With­in five to ten years we will be mov­ing from ‘made in Chi­na’ to ‘dis­cov­ered in Chi­na’.”

To­day, GSK let it be known that they are mov­ing on to “pulling out of Chi­na.”

The rest of the R&D team will stay in Shang­hai, says a spokesper­son for the com­pa­ny, but its neu­ro­sciences work — or what re­mains of it — will go to its Philadel­phia-area hub.

GSK de­clined to tell me how many of its once-planned 1,000 hires are be­ing laid off. Here’s the bare­bones state­ment.

Fol­low­ing a port­fo­lio re­view and pri­or­i­ti­za­tion, GSK has de­cid­ed to close its Neu­ro­science R&D Cen­ter in Shang­hai and move key pro­grams to its glob­al R&D hub in Up­per Prov­i­dence (just out­side Philadel­phia), where they will ben­e­fit from co-lo­ca­tion with oth­er pipeline R&D pro­grams.

The Chi­na R&D de­vel­op­ment or­gan­i­sa­tion will con­tin­ue to be based in Shang­hai and is set to ex­pand over the next two years to ac­cel­er­ate the de­vel­op­ment of new med­i­cines. We re­main com­mit­ted to Chi­na and will fo­cus our R&D ef­forts in Chi­na on the needs of Chi­na, at both our Shang­hai site and our In­sti­tute for In­fec­tious Dis­eases and Pub­lic Health in Be­jing.

The big ques­tion was why GSK took so long. Once a big play­er in neu­ro­sciences, for­mer CEO An­drew Wit­ty sig­naled a ma­jor re­treat from the field in 2011 – though ex­ecs stout­ly in­sist­ed for years that it nev­er ex­it­ed.

Em­ma Walm­s­ley

GSK is now un­der­go­ing a ma­jor pipeline re­vamp, with new CEO Em­ma Walm­s­ley look­ing to add on­col­o­gy and au­to-in­flam­ma­to­ry con­di­tions to a pipeline al­ready dom­i­nat­ed by HIV/in­fec­tious dis­eases and res­pi­ra­to­ry con­di­tions. Neu­ro­sciences can be found at the very end of its pipeline chart, rep­re­sent­ed by a sin­gle project.

GSK has been un­der­go­ing mul­ti­ple rounds of R&D re­or­ga­ni­za­tions over the last few years. With no em­pha­sis on R&D in the neu­ro­sciences field and the phar­ma gi­ant ex­it­ing rare dis­eases as it chops 30 pro­grams, there’s no guar­an­tee you’ll ever hear of it again.

Daphne Koller, Getty

Bris­tol My­er­s' Richard Har­g­reaves pays $70M to launch a neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion al­liance with a star play­er in the ma­chine learn­ing world

Bristol Myers Squibb is turning to one of the star upstarts in the machine learning world to go back to the drawing board and come up with the disease models needed to find drugs that can work against two of the toughest targets in the neuro world.

Daphne Koller’s well-funded insitro is getting $70 million in cash and near-term milestones to use their machine learning platform to create induced pluripotent stem cell-derived disease models for ALS and frontotemporal dementia.

Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks at the Rose Garden, May 26, 2020 (Evan Vucci/AP Images)

Eli Lil­ly lines up a block­buster deal for Covid-19 an­ti­body, right af­ter it failed a NI­AID tri­al

Two days after Eli Lilly conceded that its antibody bamlanivimab was a flop in hospitalized Covid-19 patients, the US government is preparing to make it a blockbuster.

The pharma giant reported early Wednesday that it struck a deal to supply the feds with 300,000 vials of the drug at a cost of $375 million — once it gets an EUA stamp from the FDA. And once that 2-month supply deal is done, the government has an option on another 650,000 doses on the same terms — which could potentially add another $812 million.

Sanofi teams up with Mer­ck to pair Keytru­da with a next-gen IL-2 can­di­date from the Syn­thorx buy­out

Nearly a year after snapping up a next-gen immuno-oncology candidate in its $2.5 billion Synthorx buyout, Sanofi is joining forces with Merck to pair the drug with blockbuster Keytruda.

The pharmas are planning a Phase II trial of Sanofi’s non-alpha IL-2 candidate THOR-707 in combination or sequenced administration with Keytruda for various cancers. While the companies are keeping mum about the financial terms and targets, they said the trials will be Sanofi-sponsored.

CMO Merdad Parsey (Gilead)

Gilead hits the brakes on a tri­fec­ta of mid- and late-stage stud­ies for their trou­bled fil­go­tinib pro­gram. It's up to the FDA now

Gilead $GILD execs haven’t decided exactly what to do with filgotinib in the wake of the slapdown at the FDA on their rheumatoid arthritis application, but they’re taking a time out for a slate of studies until they can gain some clarity from the agency. And without encouraging guidance, this drug could clearly be axed from the pipeline.

In their Q3 report out Wednesday afternoon, the company says researchers have “paused” a Phase III study for psoriatic arthritis along with a pair of Phase II trials for ankylosing spondylitis and uveitis. Late-stage studies for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s are continuing, but you can see for yourself how big a hole this leaves in the inflammatory disease pipeline, with obvious implications if the company abandons filgo altogether.

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Patrick Soon-Shiong at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, Jan. 13, 2020 (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Af­ter falling be­hind the lead­ers, dissed by some ex­perts, biotech show­man Patrick Soon-Sh­iong fi­nal­ly gets his Covid-19 vac­cine ready for a tri­al. But can it live up to the hype?

In January, when dozens of scientists rushed to start making a vaccine for the then-novel coronavirus, they were joined by an unlikely compatriot: Patrick Soon-Shiong, the billionaire doctor most famous for making big, controversial promises on cancer research.

Soon-Shiong had spent the last 4 years on his “Cancer Moonshot,” but part of his project meant buying a small Seattle biotech that specialized in making common-cold vectors, called adenoviruses, to train the immune system. The billionaire had been using those vectors for oncology, but the company had also developed vaccine candidates for H1N1, Lassa fever and other viruses. When the outbreak began, he pivoted.

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Charles Baum, Mirati CEO

UP­DAT­ED: Mi­rati plots a march to the FDA for its KRAS G12C drug, breath­ing down Am­gen’s neck with bet­ter da­ta

Mirati Therapeutics $MRTX took another closely-watched step toward a now clearly defined goal to file for an approval for its KRAS G12C cancer drug adagrasib (MRTX849), scoring a higher response rate than the last readout from the class-leading rival at Amgen but still leaving open a raft of important questions about its future.

Following a snapshot of the first handful of responses, where the drug scored a tumor response in 3 of 5 patients with non-small cell lung cancer, the response rate has now slid to 45% among a pooled group of 51 early-stage and Phase II patients, 43% — 6 of 14 — when looking solely at the Phase I/Ib. Those 14 patients had a median treatment duration of 8.2 months, with half still on therapy and 5 of 6 responders still in response.

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Christian Rommel (via Roche)

Bay­er fol­lows R&D deal spree by raid­ing Roche's can­cer group for its new re­search chief

The day after Bayer signed off on a $4 billion deal designed to put the company among the leaders in gene therapy development, the pharma giant has recruited a new chief for its R&D division. And they opted for an expert in the cancer field.

Christian Rommel, Roche’s head of discovery and early-stage oncology development, has been tapped to take over the job. Joerg Moeller, who got the top research post after early- and late-stage development roles were combined 2 years ago, is hitting the exit “to pursue other career opportunities.”

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Albert Bourla, AP

UP­DAT­ED: Where's the Pfiz­er ef­fi­ca­cy read­out? CEO Bourla says 'soon,' but you're go­ing to have to wait for it

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla had promised repeatedly that the pharma giant would know if its leading Covid-19 vaccine is effective by the end of this month — now just a few days away.

Instead, the company reported early Tuesday that it has yet to conduct any interim efficacy analyses. And it won’t now until sometime next month.

The news was included in a slide for their Q3 report.

In the morning Q3 call with analysts, Bourla says that they expect efficacy data “soon,” but noted that they wouldn’t be able to say anything until all the administrative work was done on the interim, which would take about a week. And he added that Pfizer isn’t going to say anything else about that hot topic until they have the data in hand.

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For­mer Al­ler­gan pro­gram posts pos­i­tive topline PhI­II re­sults in pres­by­opia in an R&D win post-Ab­b­Vie merg­er

The battered pipeline AbbVie $ABBV acquired in its $63 billion buyout of Allergan picked up a rare win Wednesday morning.

Allergan announced that a pair of Phase III studies for an experimental ophthalmic solution in presbyopia, an age-related condition resulting in a problem focusing on nearby objects, met their primary endpoint in vision tests associated with the condition. The data puts the program on track for a NDA sometime in the first half of next year.