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.

Fangliang Zhang, AP Images

UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

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As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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GSK presents case to ex­pand use of its lu­pus drug in pa­tients with kid­ney dis­ease, but the field is evolv­ing. How long will the mo­nop­oly last?

In 2011, GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta became the first biologic to win approval for lupus patients. Nine years on, the British drugmaker has unveiled detailed positive results from a study testing the drug in lupus patients with associated kidney disease — a post-marketing requirement from the initial FDA approval.

Lupus is a drug developer’s nightmare. In the last six decades, there has been just one FDA approval (Benlysta), with the field resembling a graveyard in recent years with a string of failures including UCB and Biogen’s late-stage flop, as well as defeats in Xencor and Sanofi’s programs. One of the main reasons the success has eluded researchers is because lupus, akin to cancer, is not just one disease — it really is a disease of many diseases, noted Al Roy, executive director of Lupus Clinical Investigators Network, an initiative of New York-based Lupus Research Alliance that claims it is the world’s leading private funder of lupus research, in an interview.

Bris­tol My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.

RA Cap­i­tal, Hill­house join $310M rush to back Ever­est's climb to com­mer­cial heights in Chi­na

Money has never been an issue for Everest Medicines. With an essentially open tab from their founders at C-Bridge Capital, the biotech has gone two and a half years racking up drug after drug, bringing in top exec after top exec, and issuing clinical update after update.

But now other investors want in — and they’re betting big.

Everest is closing its Series C at $310 million. The first $50 million comes from the Jiashan National Economic and Technological Development Zone; the remaining C-2 tranche was led by Janchor Partners, with RA Capital Management and Hillhouse Capital as co-leaders. Decheng Capital, GT Fund, Janus Henderson Investors, Rock Springs Capital, Octagon Investments all joined.

Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

UP­DAT­ED: Es­ti­mat­ing a US price tag of $5K per course, remde­sivir is set to make bil­lions for Gilead, says key an­a­lyst

Data on remdesivir — the first drug shown to benefit Covid-19 patients in a randomized, controlled trial setting — may be murky, but its maker Gilead could reap billions from the sales of the failed Ebola therapy, according to an estimate by a prominent Wall Street analyst. However, the forecast, which is based on a $5,000-per-course US price tag, triggered the ire of one top drug price expert.