Bioregnum, R&D

Can GSK’s new R&D strategy resuscitate the worst performer in Big Pharma?

The view from John Carroll

The new pharma chief at GSK is laying out their new pipeline game plan, which should begin in earnest once Hal Barron arrives to take over R&D.

Luke Miels

In an interview with Reuters, Luke Miels outlined plans to rev up a dormant business development operation $GSK, jumping off the sidelines to start licensing in early-stage drugs in cancer and immunology.

The initial pipeline focus at GSK will center on its BCMA-targeting multiple myeloma program, NY-ESO — partnered with Adaptimmune — and ICOS. This will play out as the company launches its new shingles vaccine, an HIV drug widely tapped as a blockbuster and its latest three-in-one inhaler Trelegy.

And he plans to take a page out of the AstraZeneca playbook, where he was a trusted lieutenant under Pascal Soriot, staying focused on core areas. He told Reuters: “I saw that happen at Astra and I think the conditions are in place where we can do something very, very interesting at GSK.”

Don’t look for anything quick, he says, with a gap on launches until 2020.

So let’s break that down.

Emma Walmsley

GSK has had one of the weakest pharma R&D organizations in the Big Pharma league for years. Its decision to swap its late-stage and commercial portfolio of cancer assets for vaccines was a strategic blunder, leaving Novartis as an even bigger player in the biggest field in the industry just as it was exploding.

The pharma R&D group at GSK is run separately from HIV, which is the precinct of ViiV, a majority owned subsidiary, and vaccines, which developed Shingrix. GSK has consistently overestimated the commercial impact of its respiratory franchise, which was supposed to be its blockbuster savior years ago.

The decision to focus BD on early-stage work simply replicates all of its old weaknesses. The pharma R&D group has a well established rep for enthusiastically seizing on early-stage work and then either kicking it into oblivion or failing. Its ambitious late-stage efforts in pharma all failed, leaving it in the weak state it’s in now.

It’s been clear that GSK was going back into cancer, where it retained early-stage efforts, once new CEO Emma Walmslsey recruited Dana-Farber chief Laurie Glimcher from the board at Bristol-Myers Squibb. The CEO then made it official in an announced R&D reorganization and followed up by in-licensing the Adaptimmune drug and hiring an oncology expert with one of the highest profiles in the world to take over where GSK has had a decade-long swoon.

Now, instead of paying a premium to concentrate on late-stage work, the only place where a Big Pharma can distinguish itself quickly, Miels is signaling that the company will take years more in revving up the pipeline. With such a poor history on innovation, they’ll need to get lucky.

We’ll see if Barron has anything else in mind.

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VP Oncology Biology
Skyhawk Therapeutics Waltham, MA
Associate Director CMC
Elektroki Boston, MA
Director Process Development
Elektroki Boston, MA
Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT

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