The glob­al ri­val­ry for top sci­en­tif­ic tal­ent in bio­phar­ma R&D is about to get a lot hot­ter

Tony Ho

Tony Ho was a key play­er in As­traZeneca’s on­col­o­gy R&D group, help­ing lead suc­cess­ful Phase III stud­ies for Lyn­parza and Imfinzi — two of its top new drugs. But the se­nior vice pres­i­dent has moved on to an­oth­er com­pa­ny now, As­traZeneca con­firms for me, un­der­scor­ing a sig­nif­i­cant mi­gra­tion of top R&D tal­ent that will soon see grow­ing com­pe­ti­tion among the top play­ers for the best sci­en­tists in drug de­vel­op­ment.

Ho’s ex­it, first re­port­ed by S&P Glob­al Mar­ket In­tel­li­gence, fol­lows a slate of high-pro­file moves among the biggest play­ers in R&D. One of the most re­cent was Tony Wood’s move from Pfiz­er to Glax­o­SmithK­line, where he’s jumped to as the new head of plat­form tech­nol­o­gy and sci­ence.

Tony Wood

The com­pe­ti­tion, though, is just get­ting start­ed. It’s about to get amped up by Glax­o­SmithK­line’s new R&D strat­e­gy — which is ar­riv­ing at a time a whole slate of ma­jor com­pa­nies like Eli Lil­ly, Bio­gen and Alex­ion are all shak­ing up their re­search groups.

Dur­ing GSK’s Q2 call with an­a­lysts this week, the phar­ma gi­ant’s ex­ec­u­tive team high­light­ed Wood’s re­cruit­ment, as well as their plans to start woo­ing a large new crew in­to the com­pa­ny as it con­tin­ues a top-to-bot­tom tal­ent re­view of its key in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

“I think con­tin­u­al­ly re­fresh­ing all sci­ence is an ab­solute­ly key thing,” said Si­mon Dinge­mans, GSK’s CFO. “And I think we’ve got strong lead­er­ship po­si­tions in some places I’ve said, and some ar­eas where we do need to look and make sure that we’ve got cut­ting-edge sci­ence and that’s al­ways go­ing to be the case and we will re­fresh and con­tin­ue to re­fresh the lead­er­ship.”

Si­mon Dinge­mans

As­traZeneca, mean­while, was brag­ging about just hir­ing Jean-Charles So­ria as SVP of re­search and ear­ly de­vel­op­ment from the Gus­tave Roussy Can­cer Cen­tre in Paris. And Ge­of­frey Kim is mov­ing from the FDA to their I/O fran­chise as head of on­col­o­gy strate­gic com­bi­na­tions.

While Big Phar­ma op­er­a­tions that ac­count for about half of the $150 bil­lion in drug R&D spend­ing each year are scout­ing new tal­ent, biotech star­tups con­tin­ue to at­tract siz­able rounds and grow their own op­er­a­tions, look­ing to IPOs now in­stead of buy­outs as they build pipelines — of­ten with the help of top sci­en­tists who pre­fer a more en­tre­pre­neur­ial en­vi­ron­ment.

Look for lots of more hir­ing ahead, with key play­ers raid­ing the best re­searchers in a scram­ble for R&D su­prema­cy.

BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

Gilead re­leas­es an­oth­er round of murky remde­sivir re­sults

A month after the NIH declared the first trial on remdesivir in Covid-19 a success, Gilead is out with new results on their antiviral. But although the study met one of its primary endpoints, the data are likely to only add to a growing debate over how effective the drug actually is.

In a Phase III trial, patients given a 5-day dose of remdesivir were 65% more likely to show “clinical improvement” compared to an arm given standard-of-care. The trial, though, gave little indication for whether the drug had an impact on key endpoints such as survival or time-to-recovery. And in a surprising twist, a 10-day dosing arm of remdesivir didn’t lead to a statistically significant improvement over standard of care.

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Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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Ken Frazier, AP Images

Why Mer­ck wait­ed, and what they now bring to the Covid-19 fight

Nicholas Kartsonis had been running clinical infectious disease research at Merck for almost 2 years when, in mid-January, he got a new assignment: searching the pharma giant’s vast libraries for something that could treat the novel coronavirus.

The outbreak was barely two weeks old when Kartsonis and a few dozen others got to work, first in small teams and then in a larger task force that sucked in more and more parts of the sprawling company as Covid-19 infected more and more of the globe. By late February, the group began formally searching for vaccine and antiviral candidates to license. Still, while other companies jumped out to announce their programs and, eventually and sometimes controversially, early glimpses at human data, Merck remained silent. They made only a brief announcement about a data collection partnership in April and mentioned vaguely a vaccine and antiviral search in their April 28 earnings call.

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Mark Genovese (Stanford via Twitter)

Gilead woos fil­go­tinib clin­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tor from Stan­ford to lead the charge on NASH, in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­eases

With an FDA OK for the use of filgotinib in rheumatoid arthritis expected to drop any day now, Gilead has recruited a new leader from academia to lead its foray into inflammatory diseases.

Mark Genovese — a longtime Stanford professor and most recently the clinical chief in the division of immunology and rheumatology — was the principal investigator in FINCH 2, one of three studies that supported Gilead’s NDA filing. In his new role as SVP, inflammation, he will oversee the clinical development of the entire portfolio.

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Stephen Isaacs, Aduro president and CEO (Aduro)

Once a high fly­er, a stag­ger­ing Aduro is auc­tion­ing off most of the pipeline as CEO Stephen Isaacs hands off the shell to new own­ers

After a drumbeat of failure, setbacks and reorganizations over the last few years, Aduro CEO Stephen Isaacs is handing over his largely gutted-out shell of a public company to another biotech company and putting up some questionable assets in a going-out-of-business sale.

Isaacs —who forged a string of high-profile Big Pharma deals along the way — has wrapped a 13-year run at the biotech with one program for kidney disease going to the new owners at Chinook Therapeutics. A host of once-heralded assets like their STING agonist program partnered with Novartis (which dumped their work on ADU-S100 after looking over weak clinical results), the Lilly-allied cGAS-STING inhibitor program and the anti-CD27 program out-licensed to Merck will all be posted for auction under a strategic review process.

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Len Schleifer (left) and George Yancopoulos, Regeneron (Vimeo)

Eyes on he­mo­phil­ia prize, Re­gen­eron adds a $100M wa­ger on joint de­vel­op­ment cam­paign with In­tel­lia

When George Yancopoulos first signed up Intellia to be its CRISPR/Cas9 partner on gene editing projects 4 years ago, the upstart smartly ramped up its IPO at the same time. Today, Regeneron $REGN is coming back in, adding $100 million in an upfront fee and equity to significantly boot up a whole roster of new development projects.

And they’re highlighting some clinical hemophilia research plans in the process.

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Pablo Legorreta, founder and CEO of Royalty Pharma AG, speaks at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Cap­i­tal­iz­ing Pablo: The world’s biggest drug roy­al­ty buy­er is go­ing pub­lic. And the low-key CEO di­vulges a few se­crets along the way

Pablo Legorreta is one of the most influential players in biopharma you likely never heard of.

Over the last 24 years, Legorreta’s Royalty Pharma group has become, by its own reckoning, the biggest buyer of drug royalties in the world. The CEO and founder has bought up a stake in a lengthy list of the world’s biggest drug franchises, spending $18 billion in the process — $2.2 billion last year alone. And he’s become one of the best-paid execs in the industry, reaping $28 million from the cash flow last year while reserving 20% of the cash flow, less expenses, for himself.

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Bris­tol My­ers Squib­b's just-launched MS drug Zeposia makes the cut in key ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis tri­al

In March, Zeposia became the third oral S1P modulator to secure US approval for multiple sclerosis. Now, the drug has succeeded in a key ulcerative colitis study.

The immunomodulator, akin to others in its class, controls lymphocyte trafficking by limiting the white blood cells to the lymphatic system, in the lymph nodes, and thwarting their ability to jam up lymph nodes — precluding their ability to penetrate the bloodstream and the central nervous system.