GSK R&D chief Vallance is out as its new CEO changes direction under a new crew

Image: Patrick Vallance.

The R&D chief at GlaxoSmithKline is jumping ship, just as new CEO Emma Walmsley pushes through the final changes of a top-to-bottom shakeup aimed at spurring a more commercially effective strategy in drug development.

Patrick Vallance is turning in his company credentials in exchange for a new job in government, according to several reports out of London, with plans to take a job as a senior adviser to the government on science, though the Financial Times says that the current occupant of that job isn’t slated to leave for some months.

Both the Financial Times and Reuters cited sources saying that a change is in the offing, with the FT noting that Vallance had been feeling under pressure from the new regime as internal criticism of their track record mounted over the course of the year. A company spokesperson declined comment when I queried GSK early Friday.

While it’s not immediately clear whether Vallance had some help in deciding to leave GSK, it’s unlikely that Walmsley made an effort to retain him. At the end of his 6-year tenure, the UK pharma giant has found little of blockbuster importance to report on in the late-stage pharma pipeline. Innovation has been largely limited to vaccines and HIV, where they are the majority owner of ViiV, with some incremental gains on the respiratory side.

GSK, meanwhile, has the 11th largest R&D budget in the industry at $4.5 billion, making it a top 15 player as the majors aggressively pursued bigger pipelines. R&D accounted for 16% of its revenue last year, a respectable amount. But with generic Advair pressures set to grow, patience has been running out.

Not long after taking the helm after Andrew Witty’s departure from the top job, Walmsley moved to spur a change, bringing in AstraZeneca’s Luke Miels at pharma to help devise a better drug strategy, wooing Dana-Farber chief Laurie Glimcher over to the board from Bristol-Myers Squibb and suggesting that now might be a great time to dive deeper into oncology.

Kicking loose some poor R&D prospects while retreating from China, GSK’s R&D group also recently completed picking up an option from Adaptimmune. Just yesterday the company touted the FDA’s decision to lend its breakthrough drug designation to an early-stage cancer therapy guided by SVP Axel Hoos, which helped clarify the growing influence of cancer R&D, where fellow British pharma giant AstraZeneca has been making significant advances.

The question now is whether GSK will reach into its faded R&D structure in search of a new R&D star, or reach out to find an expert looking to wrangle one of the biggest research groups on the planet. Both Vallance and his predecessor in the pharma group, Moncef Slaoui, were longtime employees at the company.

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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