Strug­gling GSK re­cruits can­cer drug gu­ru Hal Bar­ron as its new R&D chief

Glax­o­SmithK­line has re­cruit­ed Hal Bar­ron, one of the world’s top can­cer drug in­ves­ti­ga­tors, to take the helm of its trou­bled phar­ma R&D group, of­fer­ing a fresh sign that the phar­ma gi­ant is jump­ing back in a big way in­to on­col­o­gy.

Hal Bar­ron

Bar­ron be­came some­thing of a liv­ing leg­end dur­ing his long stint at Genen­tech dur­ing a time the big biotech carved a broad path in the on­col­o­gy field. Af­ter the Roche buy­out he be­come CMO at the phar­ma gi­ant. More re­cent­ly, he joined the stealthy Google start­up Cal­i­co to delve in­to ag­ing R&D, where he’s been large­ly mum about his work.

Now, though, he’s GSK CEO Em­ma Walm­s­ley’s prize catch at a time the com­pa­ny will try to prove that it can pro­duce in­no­v­a­tive new drugs — some­thing that has long elud­ed the com­pa­ny.

Bar­ron is re­plac­ing Patrick Val­lance, who is head­ed to a gov­ern­ment job as the new CEO shakes up the pipeline and sets new pri­or­i­ties.

Sig­nif­i­cant­ly, Bar­ron will re­main in San Fran­cis­co, where GSK is cre­at­ing a new of­fice fo­cused on busi­ness de­vel­op­ment for the R&D group. That will leave him far from GSK’s R&D ops, which are based around Philadel­phia and Steve­nage in the UK.

His move to GSK un­der­scores the grow­ing im­por­tance of on­col­o­gy for GSK’s fu­ture. Walm­s­ley’s pre­de­ces­sor did a big swap with No­var­tis, trad­ing its late-stage can­cer port­fo­lio in ex­change for vac­cines. GSK kept its ear­ly-stage can­cer group, though, which re­cent­ly took an op­tion on a drug from Adap­ti­m­mune $ADAP.

Bar­ron is in­stant­ly rec­og­niz­able in the in­dus­try. He start­ed out at Genen­tech as a clin­i­cal sci­en­tist, work­ing his way up to CMO and helped change the face of can­cer drug de­vel­op­ment in the process.

“The on­ly way any drugs are suc­cess­ful is when you un­der­stand the un­der­ly­ing bi­ol­o­gy you’re treat­ing. In can­cer, the bi­ol­o­gy has re­al­ly ex­plod­ed,” Bar­ron told me back in 2013, with re­searchers now able to un­der­stand what’s hap­pen­ing on the pa­tient lev­el. Un­der­stand­ing “the path­ways which are caus­ing the spe­cif­ic can­cer in mind [and tai­lor­ing] the ther­a­py to a pa­tient’s bi­ol­o­gy, dra­mat­i­cal­ly en­rich­es the op­por­tu­ni­ty.”

Not­ed Walm­s­ley: “Sci­en­tif­ic in­no­va­tion must be at the heart of GSK and with the ap­point­ment of Hal, we are bring­ing one of the world’s fore­most R&D lead­ers to the com­pa­ny.”

She’s pay­ing Bar­ron a salary of $1.7 mil­lion, with a bonus of $1.7 mil­lion and mil­lions more in stock awards.

At the In­flec­tion Point for the Next Gen­er­a­tion of Can­cer Im­munother­a­py

While oncology researchers have long pursued the potential of cellular immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, it was unclear whether these therapies would ever reach patients due to the complexity of manufacturing and costs of development. Fortunately, the recent successful development and regulatory approval of chimeric antigen receptor-engineered T (CAR-T) cells have demonstrated the significant benefit of these therapies to patients.

All about Omi­cron; We need more Covid an­tivi­rals; GSK snags Pfiz­er’s vac­cine ex­ec; Janet Wood­cock’s fu­ture at FDA; and more

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Merck's new antiviral molnupiravir (Quality Stock Arts / Shutterstock)

As Omi­cron spread looms, oral an­tivi­rals ap­pear to be one of the best de­fens­es — now we just need more

After South African scientists reported a new Covid-19 variant — dubbed Omicron by the WHO — scientists became concerned about how effective vaccines and monoclonal antibodies might be against it, which has more than 30 mutations in the spike protein.

“I think it is super worrisome,” Dartmouth professor and Adagio co-founder and CEO Tillman Gerngross told Endpoints News this weekend. Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel echoed similar concerns, telling the Financial Times that experts warned him, “This is not going to be good.”

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Lisa Deschamps, AviadoBio CEO

Ex-No­var­tis busi­ness head hops over to a gene ther­a­py start­up — and she's reeled in $80M for a dash to the clin­ic

Neurologist and King’s College London professor Christopher Shaw has been researching neurodegenerative diseases like ALS and collaborating with drugmakers for the last 25 years in the hopes of pushing new therapies forward. But unfortunately, none of those efforts have come anywhere close to fruition.

“So, you know, after 20 years in the game, I said, ‘Let’s try and do it ourselves,’” he told Endpoints News. 

In­cor­po­rat­ing Ex­ter­nal Da­ta in­to Clin­i­cal Tri­als: Com­par­ing Dig­i­tal Twins to Ex­ter­nal Con­trol Arms

Most drug development professionals are familiar with the nerve-racking wait for the read-out of a large trial. If it’s negative, is the investigational therapy ineffective? Or could the failure result from an unforeseen flaw in the design or execution of the protocol, rather than a lack of efficacy? The team could spend weeks analyzing data, but a definitive answer may be elusive due to insufficient power for such analyses in the already completed trial. These problems are only made worse if the trial had lower enrollment, or higher dropout than expected due to an unanticipated event like COVID-19. And if a trial is negative, the next one is likely to be larger and more costly — if it happens at all.

Ab­b­Vie tacks on a new warn­ing to Rin­voq la­bel as safe­ty frets crimp JAK class

The safety problems that continue to plague the JAK class as new data highlight some severe side effects are casting a large shadow over AbbVie’s Rinvoq.

As a result of a recent readout highlighting major adverse cardiac events (MACE), malignancy, mortality and thrombosis with Xeljanz a couple of months ago, AbbVie put out a notice late Friday afternoon that it is adding the new class risks to its label for their rival drug.

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Biospec­i­men M&A: Dis­cov­ery ac­quires Al­bert Li's he­pa­to­cyte project; PhI­II tri­al on Bay­er's Nube­qa reached pri­ma­ry end­point

Discovery Life Sciences has acquired what claims to be the Maryland-based host of the world’s largest hepatocyte inventory, known as IVAL, to help researchers select more effective and safer drug candidates in the future.

The combined companies will now serve a wider range of drug research and development scientists, according to Albert Li, who founded IVAL in 2004 and is set to join the Discovery leadership team as the CSO of pharmacology and toxicology.

Pfiz­er, Am­gen and Janssen seek fur­ther clar­i­ty on FDA's new ben­e­fit-risk guid­ance

Three top biopharma companies are seeking more details from the FDA on how the agency conducts its benefit-risk assessments for new drugs and biologics.

While Pfizer, Amgen and Janssen praised the agency for further spelling out its thinking on the subject in a new draft guidance, including a discussion of patient experience data as part of the assessment, the companies said the FDA could’ve included more specifics in the 20-page draft document.

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Re­searchers move clos­er to de­ci­pher­ing blood clots from As­traZeneca, J&J's Covid-19 vac­cines

Researchers may be nearing an answer for the mysterious and life-threatening blood clots that appeared on very rare occasions in people who received the J&J or AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

The new work builds on an early hypothesis researchers in Norway put forward last spring, when the cases first cropped up. They proposed the events were similar to blood clots that can occur in a small subset of patients who receive heparin, one of the most commonly used blood thinners.