Leena Gand­hi steps out of Keytru­da spot­light and in­to a top re­search job at I/O lag­gard Eli Lil­ly

Two weeks ago, Leena Gand­hi was in the spot­light at AACR with the lat­est land­mark da­ta on Mer­ck’s Keytru­da/chemo com­bo for front­line lung can­cer. That pack­age end­ed up out­shin­ing a ri­val play from Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb as Mer­ck con­tin­ued to con­sol­i­date its lead po­si­tion in the field. 

To­day, we find out that Gand­hi, an in­ves­ti­ga­tor at the Perl­mut­ter Can­cer Cen­ter at NYU Lan­gone Health and a Dana-Far­ber vet, has been re­cruit­ed by none oth­er than Eli Lil­ly to head up its im­muno-on­col­o­gy re­search work. Or per­haps, more to the point, the I/O work that Lil­ly plans to get start­ed on. And she’s the lat­est in a se­ries of new hires that points to Lil­ly’s brew­ing in­ter­est in forg­ing new on­col­o­gy deals.

Dan Skovron­sky

As of now, Lil­ly has been large­ly by­passed on the glob­al I/O su­per high­way as it pairs up its tar­get­ed can­cer agents with the lead play­ers. But in its Q1 call a few days ago, new R&D chief Dan Skovron­sky and the ex­ec­u­tive team made it clear that the com­pa­ny is prepar­ing to hatch some I/O deals to beef up its can­cer drug pipeline. And Gand­hi is clear­ly cen­tral to that process.

“(W)e need to be ac­tive ex­ter­nal­ly and you can count us,” said CEO Dave Ricks. 

Sue Ma­ho­ny

Lil­ly has a rep as a fair­ly re­li­able big phar­ma drug de­vel­op­er, field­ing a string of new drugs in re­cent years. It’s made a huge in­vest­ment in­to Alzheimer’s dis­ease, with noth­ing to show for it. And while em­i­nent­ly re­li­able on the da­ta, a big plus for di­a­betes R&D, Lil­ly’s de­vel­op­ment group has been a slow and pon­der­ous per­former, of­ten late to every big new mar­ket­ing niche it tries to tack­le.

These new re­searchers will be charged with chang­ing that rep.

“We men­tioned we’ve on-board­ed two physi­cians re­cent­ly, one from Duke and the oth­er from the Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing and you will see us con­tin­u­ing to bring­ing more ex­ter­nal tal­ent,” said Eli Lil­ly on­col­o­gy chief Sue Ma­ho­ny dur­ing the call, high­light­ing the ar­rival of Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing Can­cer Cen­ter’s Mau­ra Dick­ler, re­cruit­ed as Lil­ly’s new VP of late-phase de­vel­op­ment in on­col­o­gy.

Gand­hi ar­rives at Lil­ly June 25.


Im­age: Leena Gand­hi. NYU LAN­GONE HEALTH

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About Avance Clinical

Avance Clinical is an Australian owned Contract Research Organisation that has been providing high-quality clinical research services to the local and international drug development industry for 20 years. They specialise in working with biotech companies to execute Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials to deliver high-quality outcomes fit for global regulatory standards.

As oncology sponsors look internationally to speed-up trials after unprecedented COVID-19 suspensions and delays, Australia, which has led the world in minimizing the pandemic’s impact, stands out as an attractive destination for early phase trials. This in combination with the streamlined regulatory system and the financial benefits including a very favourable exchange rate and the R & D cash rebate makes Australia the perfect location for accelerating biotech clinical programs.

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Janet Woodcock, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (AP Images)

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