People, Workforce

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.


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RAPS Regulatory Convergence 2017