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.

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