Axel Hoos, the keeper of the oncology flame at GlaxoSmithKline, steps away for his next challenge at tiny Scorpion
Axel Hoos has long kept the flame alive at GlaxoSmithKline’s oncology division, enduring lean days after the British pharma ditched its late-stage pipeline to Novartis and decided to rebuild anew. Now, watching the pipeline he helped remold finally bear fruit, Hoos is ready for a new challenge — and it will come at a tiny biotech at the frontier of “precision medicine 2.0.”
Hoos will jump ship after a nine-year stint at GSK to helm Scorpion Therapeutics, a stealthy biotech working on identifying and targeting “undruggable” targets in oncology. He will pick up the mantle in August, marking his long-awaited return to biotech and first go at the CEO role.
Most recently under the helm of CSO and R&D chief Hal Barron, Hoos oversaw a long-awaited turnaround at GSK oncology after the company opted to offload its entire late oncology pipeline to Swiss drugmaker Novartis in March 2015. That move came as part of an expansive asset swap including Novartis’ vaccines business and a consumer healthcare joint venture.
After the deal, Hoos, who led development of CTLA-4 inhibitor ipilimumab (Yervoy) during his time at Bristol Myers Squibb, spent three years working on early-stage development as the British drugmaker looked for next-gen homegrown drugs to turn around the flagging franchise. With Barron’s hiring in early 2018, that effort took off.
In August, Hoos’ yearslong effort came to fruition with the approval of Blenrep for multiple myeloma, a BCMA-targeting antibody developed completely in-house under Hoos’ leadership. Now, with Blenrep establishing proof of concept, oncology will be a major focus point for the “New GSK” outlined by CEO Emma Walmsley, who is still facing some of the old activist worries the drugmaker hasn’t done enough to move its pipeline forward.
That’s no fault of Barron’s, who has spun one deal after another to find the next big thing, but for the most part those high-dollar acquisitions and in-house programs haven’t paid off in the way GSK had hoped.
The approval was the first of what Hoos hopes will prove to be a fruitful pipeline for GSK. But having helped rebuild the drugmaker’s pipeline and talent pool effectively from scratch, Hoos told Endpoints News he’s ready for his next challenge.
“There’s an opportunity here that just has to be seized,” he said.
Just a year into existence, Scorpion has built a drug discovery engine around drugging the classically “undruggable” targets in oncology by going after well-known and highly validated oncogene targets, Hoos said. While the 50-man team is still in very early development, Hoos said the biotech hopes to have its first IND in hand by end of 2022 and is looking to build a team around him to match that rapid pace of development.
Unlike other biotech CEOs, who keep their ambitions close to the vest, Hoos is straightforward in the fact that Scorpion will aim for an IPO in the future. The biotech has already earned the backing of Atlas Venture as part of a $108 million Series A in October, quickly followed by a $162 million Series B this January, and thinks the market will be receptive to the technology it’s developed in going after hard-to-hit targets. (For more info on biotech’s hot IPO market, bookmark our tracker here.)
There’s also a degree of trepidation there: While Hoos has amassed a strong organizational background at GSK and elsewhere, milestones like public offerings are something new for him. However, Hoos thinks he has the vision to hire the best people around him for those big-ticket moments.
“Critical for me as a CEO is that you’re decisive, you’re a good listener so you get all the information you need to make decisions and then you carry that forward with conviction,” he said. “Conviction is a big thing, especially in biotech. You cannot be successful if you don’t believe in what you’re doing.”