Ex-GSK CEO, R&D chief An­drew Wit­ty and Mon­cef Slaoui are jump­ing in­to the biotech VC game

Top phar­ma ex­ecs at the mar­quee com­pa­nies don’t re­al­ly re­tire. Some segue quite nat­u­ral­ly in­to ven­ture cap­i­tal, where their con­tacts and heavy­weight in­dus­try rep­u­ta­tions can fa­cil­i­tate the growth of lit­tle biotech com­pa­nies at a time the VC crowd is en­joy­ing a pro­longed and pop­u­lar boom.

This morn­ing two of the biggest names that once dom­i­nat­ed GSK for a decade, the new­ly re­tired CEO An­drew Wit­ty and long­time R&D chief Mon­cef Slaoui, mapped out their plans to jump in­to the biotech ven­ture cap­i­tal game. Sir An­drew has signed on as a part­ner at Durham, NC-based Hat­teras Ven­ture Part­ners, while Slaoui has joined the Eu­ro­pean team at Medicxi.

“An­drew Wit­ty we be­lieve brings the high­est lev­el of un­der­stand­ing about the phar­ma in­dus­try as a whole,” Hat­teras Gen­er­al Part­ner Bob In­gram tells me, count­ing off Wit­ty’s lead­ing roles in the glob­al com­mer­cial as well as R&D side of the busi­ness.

Wit­ty is land­ing in a group where he al­ready feels quite com­fort­able.

He joined the board at Hat­teras port­fo­lio com­pa­ny G1 re­cent­ly, re­turn­ing to a re­gion where GSK has had deep roots. He spoke at an in­vestors meet­ing in 2008 and then again last year, says In­gram, as he was wind­ing up a lengthy stint at the helm of the phar­ma gi­ant. And In­gram says Wit­ty — like­ly the on­ly knight­ed mem­ber of the biotech ven­ture com­mu­ni­ty — is ex­pect­ed to help ad­vise the firm and its biotech com­pa­nies, lend­ing some of his ster­ling Big Phar­ma rep to the or­ga­ni­za­tion as it grows up new com­pa­nies.

Just yes­ter­day Hat­teras, a big play­er in­volv­ing all things out of UNC, par­tic­i­pat­ed in a $27 mil­lion round for Cam­bridge, MA-based Rodin.

Slaoui was the long­time R&D chief at Glax­o­SmithK­line be­fore he moved to chair the big vac­cines side of the busi­ness at GSK ahead of his re­tire­ment last June. As R&D chief, Slaoui cre­at­ed the dis­cov­ery per­for­mance units that were de­signed to spur more biotech-like think­ing as the DPUs com­pet­ed for re­sources. But the DPUs failed to be­come the in­no­va­tion cen­ters that GSK need­ed — with some of Slaoui’s top bets go­ing bad — and new CEO Em­ma Walm­s­ley is fash­ion­ing her own re­or­ga­ni­za­tion to shake things up once again.

Where GSK did find ma­jor new de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives was in vac­cines — Shin­grix — and in HIV, where the com­pa­ny re­mains a key play­er.


The Eu­ro­pean VC firm Slaoui joined to­day has some of the best con­tacts in the in­dus­try, and a grow­ing port­fo­lio of biotechs to its cred­it. But it’s a whole dif­fer­ent world from what Slaoui helped cre­ate at GSK, which spends bil­lions of dol­lars every year on drug re­search with big op­er­a­tions in the US and UK. Medicxi’s part­ners have a rep for re­lent­less thrift, mak­ing their R&D dol­lars, eu­ros and pounds stretch as far as pos­si­ble — and then some.

In a state­ment, Slaoui said he was look­ing for­ward to start­ing, “with funds avail­able to in­vest not on­ly in ear­ly stage as­sets but al­so to build­ing in­no­v­a­tive com­pa­nies through clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment and mar­ket en­try. I am look­ing for­ward to mak­ing an ac­tive con­tri­bu­tion to se­lect­ing and lead­ing in­vest­ments, and to sup­port­ing am­bi­tious en­tre­pre­neurs to de­vel­op med­i­cines that ul­ti­mate­ly make a dif­fer­ence to pa­tients.”

Not long af­ter leav­ing GSK, the en­thu­si­as­tic and out­go­ing Slaoui start­ed join­ing biotech boards, with wel­comes at SutroVax, mR­NA play­er Mod­er­na as well as the pub­lic out­fit In­tel­lia $NT­LA, one of a hand­ful of CRISPR/Ca9 gene edit­ing star­tups dom­i­nat­ing the field. Then, a lit­tle over a month ago, he dropped off the In­tel­lia crew, cit­ing a con­flict but not ex­plain­ing it.

We’ll see soon what he has planned in that field.


Im­ages: An­drew Wit­ty (top) Bloomberg / Mon­cef Slaoui File Pho­to

Once fu­ri­ous over No­var­tis’ da­ta ma­nip­u­la­tion scan­dal, the FDA now says it’s noth­ing they need to take ac­tion on

Back in the BP era — Before Pandemic — the FDA ripped Novartis for its decision to keep the agency in the dark about manipulated data used in its application for Zolgensma while its marketing application for the gene therapy was under review.

Civil and criminal sanctions were being discussed, the agency noted in a rare broadside at one of the world’s largest pharma companies. Notable lawmakers cheered the angry regulators on, urging the FDA to make an example of Novartis, which fielded Zolgensma at $2.1 million — the current record for a one-off therapy.

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Covid-19 roundup: GSK, Am­gen tai­lor R&D work to fit the coro­n­avirus age; Doud­na's ge­nomics crew launch­es di­ag­nos­tic lab

You can add Amgen and GSK to the list of deep-pocket drug R&D players who are tailoring their pipeline work to fit a new age of coronavirus.

Following in the footsteps of a lineup of big players like Eli Lilly — which has suspended patient recruitment for drug studies — Amgen and GSK have opted to take a more tailored approach. Amgen is intent on circling the wagons around key studies that are already fully enrolled, and GSK has the red light on new studies while the pandemic plays out.

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In a stun­ning set­back, Amarin los­es big patent fight over Vas­cepa IP. And its high-fly­ing stock crash­es to earth

Amarin’s shares $AMRN were blitzed Monday evening, losing billions in value as reports spread that the company had lost its high-profile effort to keep its Vascepa patents protected from generic drugmakers.

Amarin had been fighting to keep key patents under lock and key — and away from generic rivals — for another 10 years, but District Court Judge Miranda Du in Las Vegas ruled against the biotech. She ruled that:
(A)ll the Asserted Claims are invalid as obvious under 35 U.S.C.§ 103. Thus, the Court finds in favor of Defendants on Plaintiff’s remaining infringementclaim, and in their favor on their counterclaims asserting the invalidity of the AssertedClaims under 35 U.S.C. § 103.

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Covid-19 roundup: J&J, BAR­DA set ear­ly 2021 fin­ish line for $1B vac­cine race; FDA al­lows emer­gency drug use, ahead of piv­otal da­ta

J&J has zeroed in on a Covid-19 vaccine candidate that it hopes to begin testing in humans by September this year — with the extraordinary goal of getting it ready for emergency use in early 2021. And together with BARDA, it’s committing $1 billion to make it happen.

That kind of accelerated timeline would fall on the fast side of NIAID director Anthony Fauci’s well-publicized prediction that it would be another 12 to 18 months before a vaccine can be available for public use. A Phase I trial of Moderna’s mRNA vaccine began two weeks ago, and both the biotech and fellow mRNA player CureVac have discussed similar, if not even faster, timelines for emergency use among healthcare workers.

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As­traZeneca says its block­buster Farx­i­ga proved to be a game-chang­er in CKD — wrap­ping PhI­II ear­ly

If the FDA can still hold up its end of the bargain, AstraZeneca is already on a short path to scooping up a cutting-edge win with a likely approval for their SGLT2 drug Farxiga in cutting the risk of heart failure. Now the pharma giant says it can point to solid evidence that the drug — initially restricted to diabetes — also works for chronic kidney disease, potentially adding a blockbuster indication for the franchise.

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It is 'kind of a proven tech­nol­o­gy': Hep B vac­cine mak­er joins glob­al hunt for coro­n­avirus vac­cine

Using lab-grown proteins that are engineered to mimic the architecture of viruses to induce an immune response, VBI Vaccines is joining the hunt for a coronavirus vaccine — harnessing technology that has initially been proved safe in early trials as a prophylactic for cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection.

Unlike the raft of the companies in the Covid-19 vaccine race — including Moderna, CureVac and J&J — VBI is taking a pan-coronavirus approach, by developing a vaccine that will encompass Covid-19, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Can a pair of top AveX­is alum­ni steer a new gene ther­a­py up­start to R&D glo­ry? 3 VCs bet $60M on it

VCs love few things more than a proven executive team when it comes to launching a new company. And now a group of A-listers has turned to a pair of top execs out of AveXis to steer the latest gene therapy player into the clinic.

The biotech is Waltham, MA-based Affinia and the two execs are Sean Nolan and Rick Modi — the former CEO and CBO respectively of AveXis, the gene therapy pioneer that fetched $8.7 billion in a sale to Novartis. Nolan has now taken the chairman’s role at Affinia while Modi moves up to the CEO post at the company.

Un­de­terred by a pan­dem­ic, Gilde Health­care rais­es their largest fund yet

When Pieter van der Meer started raising the capital for Gilde Healthcare’s fifth fund in the waning months of 2019, he had his eyes on a different chain of events that could change the healthcare system and perhaps even play to his firm’s advantage: The US presidential election.

Since raising their third fund in 2011, the 34-year-old Dutch firm had focused on value-based care. They chose late-stage biotechs that came up with new devices and delivery systems for de-risked established compounds, and when they chose preclinical biotechs, they spoke with potential pharma partners, payers and regulators to ask where and at what prices the drug made sense. As the Democratic primary became a contest over how to lower healthcare costs, it looked like a strategy that could pay off.

Daniel O'Day (AP Images)

Gilead CEO Dan O'­Day of­fers a de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion on remde­sivir ac­cess — re­as­sur­ing an­a­lysts that Covid-19 da­ta are com­ing fast

After coming under heavy fire from consumer groups ready to pummel them for grabbing the FDA’s orphan status for remdesivir — reserved to encourage the development of rare disease therapies — Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day had some explaining to do about the company’s approach to providing access to this drug to patients suffering from Covid-19. And he set aside time over the weekend to patiently explain how they are making their potential pandemic drug available in a new program — one he feels can better be used to address a growing pack of infected patients desperately seeking remdesivir under compassionate use provisions.

In addition to trying to reassure patients that they will once again have an avenue to pursue access, O’Day also reassured some analysts who had been fretting that China’s quick comeback from the coronavirus outbreak could derail its ultra-fast schedule for testing the drug in patients. The data are still expected in a few weeks, he says in the letter, putting the readout in April.

O’Day emphasizes that Gilead intends to pursue a pricing approach that will make this drug widely available — if it proves effective and safe. But no one is quite sure just what the longterm value would be, given the work being done on a variety of vaccines that may be rolled out as early as this fall — at least to the most heavily threatened groups.

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