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.

5AM Ven­tures: Fu­el­ing the Next Gen­er­a­tion of In­no­va­tors

By RBC Capital Markets
With Andy Schwab, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at 5AM Ventures

Key Points

Prescription Digital Therapeutics, cell therapy technologies, and in silico medicines will be a vital part of future treatment modalities.
Unlocking the potential of the microbiome could be the missing link to better disease diagnosis.
Growing links between academia, industry, and venture capital are spinning out more innovative biotech companies.
Biotech is now seen by investors as a growth space as well as a safe haven, fuelling the recent IPO boom.

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