Novartis’ recently departed oncology R&D chief is headed back to Dana-Farber and a new job in cancer research

Bill Sellers

Bill Sellers

The revolving door at Novartis has spit out another top executive, only this one is headed back to a faculty post at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School.

William Sellers had been in charge of oncology research at Novartis before he announced his “retirement” earlier this year. But his 11-year stint at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research was not his final turn at bat in drug research. His new faculty post includes responsibilities as a senior adviser on experimental meds. And he’ll still be directly engaged on early-stage drug development at Dana-Farber, where he’ll help guide a spectrum of work that runs from target validation to early human studies.

His return to academic R&D circles — which includes a position with The Broad Institute — comes at a time of turmoil for Novartis, which has seen a large number of senior execs leave this year. And that’s been noted with concern by some of the analysts following the pharma giant.

“Over the years, the company has been like a revolving door when it comes to senior managers departing — below the CEO level, that is,” wrote Tim Anderson, a Bernstein analyst quoted by Reuters. “We have wondered if this has contributed to periodic shortfalls at the company, because of a lack of continuity.”

While the Cambridge/Boston hub is getting back a top academic researcher, it’s also been a source of talent for Big Pharma in general, and Novartis in particular. Jay Bradner left his post as a physician-scientist at Dana-Farber to take the reins at NIBR last fall.

Sellers built a reputation for his early work in cancer genome sequencing at Dana-Farber, which helped him in his work studying molecular pathways of cancer at Novartis. And he plans to stay focused on oncology in his new faculty position.

“Bill Sellers is one of the early pioneers in the application of systematic genome analysis to cancer and was involved in the early days of the Broad,” said Broad Institute founding director Eric Lander. “As a faculty member, his research will continue to help advance our understanding of the mechanisms of cancer and how best to target them for better diagnostics and treatment.

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