GSK poach­es new drug de­vel­op­ment chief Chris Cor­si­co from Boehringer, di­vid­ing R&D in­to two groups

Chris Cor­si­co

Glax­o­SmithK­line is con­tin­u­ing its makeover in the ex­ec­u­tive team that runs its R&D group.

The phar­ma gi­ant tells me that Chris Cor­si­co, who had been chief med­ical of­fi­cer at the pri­vate Ger­man out­fit Boehringer In­gel­heim, is step­ping over to GSK as the head of drug de­vel­op­ment, putting him in a new, top po­si­tion for ham­mer­ing out the clin­i­cal plans that the phar­ma gi­ant is putting in­to place un­der R&D chief Hal Bar­ron. 

“We have cre­at­ed two dis­tinct re­search and de­vel­op­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions – Chris will lead all of de­vel­op­ment,” says the GSK spokesper­son. Cor­si­co, she added, will be based in GSK’s big R&D group in Steve­nage in the UK, with plans to trav­el reg­u­lar­ly to its oth­er arm in Philadel­phia. He’ll be re­port­ing to Bar­ron, who is keep­ing a base of­fice in the Bay Area.

The oth­er group is re­search, un­der John Lep­ore, which “will iden­ti­fy and pros­e­cute nov­el im­munol­o­gy and ge­net­i­cal­ly-val­i­dat­ed tar­gets with the use of in­no­v­a­tive tech­nolo­gies – both ours and through part­ner­ships.” And my con­tact at GSK fol­lowed up on Wednes­day to note that on­col­o­gy — new­ly re-emer­gent at Glaxo af­ter the big as­set swap with No­var­tis — re­mains a sep­a­rate unit of its own un­der the di­rect con­trol of Ax­el Hoos. It’s based in the Philadel­phia re­gion.

Boehringer an­nounced about a week ago that Cor­si­co was leav­ing BI af­ter a 20-year stint at the com­pa­ny. Over the past few years, that kind of move has usu­al­ly flagged a jump to a biotech start­up, but Cor­si­co clear­ly has some­thing dif­fer­ent in mind.

Boehringer has been a busy play­er in drug de­vel­op­ment, re­cent­ly buy­ing a col­lab­o­ra­tor it’s been work­ing with on on­colyt­ics virus re­search for on­col­o­gy. They have a num­ber of late-stage can­cer drugs in the clin­ic, where GSK — and Genen­tech vet Bar­ron — are like­ly to be­come more ac­tive. An al­liance with Eli Lil­ly al­so put them in front of some ma­jor di­a­betes projects over the years.

Em­ma Walm­s­ley

Boehringer’s plans for R&D haven’t all gone smooth­ly, though. Back in 2016, the com­pa­ny hand­ed back rights to Han­mi’s can­cer drug ol­mu­tinib, choos­ing to ini­tial­ly stay qui­et about pa­tient deaths that sparked a con­tro­ver­sy in South Ko­rea.

Af­ter build­ing an­tic­i­pa­tion for more than a year that new CEO Em­ma Walm­s­ley was mak­ing over the lead­er­ship team at GSK in or­der to be­come far more am­bi­tious with its drug de­vel­op­ment work — prep work that in­clud­ed hun­dreds of lay­offs with an ex­press in­ter­est in in­vest­ing more in new drugs — the phar­ma gi­ant’s ini­tial roll­out of its new strate­gic ap­proach to R&D left a lot to be de­sired. GSK in­vest­ed $300 mil­lion in 23andMe and talked up its in­ter­est in ge­net­ics, fol­low­ing a dis­cov­ery trail that’s been blazed by many oth­ers be­fore it.

In the mean­time, the com­pa­ny has de­vel­oped a rep for the weak­est late-stage pipeline in the in­dus­try, with a dire need to do some­thing dra­mat­ic to in­spire in­vestors. In big phar­ma­land, it’s the late-stage pipeline that de­fines R&D. And Walm­s­ley was named CEO two years ago, with lit­tle new to show for it.

Vlad Coric (Biohaven)

In an­oth­er dis­ap­point­ment for in­vestors, FDA slaps down Bio­haven’s re­vised ver­sion of an old ALS drug

Biohaven is at risk of making a habit of disappointing its investors. 

Late Friday the biotech $BHVN reported that the FDA had rejected its application for riluzole, an old drug that they had made over into a sublingual formulation that dissolves under the tongue. According to Biohaven, the FDA had a problem with the active ingredient used in a bioequivalence study back in 2017, which they got from the Canadian drugmaker Apotex.

Norbert Bischofberger. Kronos

Backed by some of the biggest names in biotech, Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er gets his megaround for plat­form tech out of MIT

A little over a year ago when I reported on Norbert Bischofberger’s jump from the CSO job at giant Gilead to a tiny upstart called Kronos, I noted that with his connections in biotech finance, that $18 million launch round he was starting off with could just as easily have been $100 million or more.

With his first anniversary now behind him, Bischofberger has that mega-round in the bank.

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Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.

Seer adds ex-FDA chief Mark Mc­Clel­lan to the board; Her­cules Cap­i­tal makes it of­fi­cial for new CEO Scott Bluestein

→ On the same day it announced a $17.5 million Series C, life sciences and health data company Seer unveiled that it had lured former FDA commissioner and ex-CMS administrator Mark McClellan on to its board. “Mark’s deep understanding of the health care ecosystem and visionary insights on policy reform will be crucial in informing our thinking as we work to bring our liquid biopsy and life sciences products to market,” said Seer chief and founder Omid Farokhzad in a statement.

Daniel O'Day

No­var­tis hands off 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to the an­tivi­ral R&D mas­ters at Gilead

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day’s new task hunting up a CSO for the company isn’t stopping the industry’s dominant antiviral player from doing pipeline deals.

The big biotech today snapped up 3 preclinical antiviral programs from pharma giant Novartis, with drugs promising to treat human rhinovirus, influenza and herpes viruses. We don’t know what the upfront is, but the back end has $291 million in milestones baked in.

Vas Narasimhan, AP Images

On a hot streak, No­var­tis ex­ecs run the odds on their two most im­por­tant PhI­II read­outs. Which is 0.01% more like­ly to suc­ceed?

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is living in the sweet spot right now.

The numbers are running a bit better than expected, the pipeline — which he assembled as development chief — is performing and the stock popped more than 4% on Thursday as the executive team ran through their assessment of Q2 performance.

Year-to-date the stock is up 28%, so the investors will be beaming. Anyone looking for chinks in their armor — and there are plenty giving it a shot — right now focus on payer acceptance of their $2.1 million gene therapy Zolgensma, where it’s early days. And CAR-T continues to underperform, but Novartis doesn’t appear to be suffering from it.

So what could go wrong?

Actually, not much. But Tim Anderson at Wolfe pressed Narasimhan and his development chief John Tsai to pick which of two looming Phase III readouts with blockbuster implication had the better odds of success.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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H1 analy­sis: The high-stakes ta­ble in the biotech deals casi­no is pay­ing out some record-set­ting win­nings

For years the big trend among dealmakers at the major players has been centered on ratcheting down upfront payments in favor of bigger milestones. Better known as biobucks for some. But with the top 15 companies competing for the kind of “transformative” pacts that can whip up some excitement on Wall Street, with some big biotechs like Regeneron now weighing in as well, cash is king at the high stakes table.

We asked Chris Dokomajilar, the head of DealForma, to crunch the numbers for us, looking over the top 20 deals for the past decade and breaking it all down into the top alliances already created in 2019. Gilead has clearly tipped the scales in terms of the coin of the bio-realm, with its record-setting $5 billion upfront to tie up to Galapagos’ entire pipeline.

Dokomajilar notes:

We’re going to need a ‘three comma club’ for the deals with over $1 billion in total upfront cash and equity. The $100 million-plus club is getting crowded at 164 deals in the last decade with new deals being added towards the top of the chart. 2019 already has 14 deals with at least $100 million in upfront cash and equity for a total year-to-date of over $9 billion. That beats last year’s $8 billion and sets a record.

Add upfronts and equity payments and you get $11.5 billion for the year, just shy of last year’s record-setting $11.8 billion.

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