Two years in­to an R&D over­haul, GSK plans $250M lab project near Philly for an­oth­er mi­gra­tion of US staffers

An­drew Wit­ty, GSK

Glax­o­SmithK­line set out to com­plete­ly over­haul its US R&D or­ga­ni­za­tion in late 2014, ax­ing hun­dreds of staffers in its long­time drug in­ves­ti­ga­tion cen­ter in Re­search Tri­an­gle Park to counter the slug­gish progress of its pipeline. The move by CEO An­drew Wit­ty set in mo­tion a se­ries of re­struc­tur­ing waves that have had a pro­found im­pact on its re­search groups, now cen­tered in Philadel­phia and Steve­nage in the UK.

And an­oth­er wave is form­ing now.

GSK is spend­ing $250 mil­lion to make over its lab fa­cil­i­ties in Up­per Prov­i­dence Town­ship north­west of Philly. By 2018 the site will host 3,200 R&D staffers, twice what it is right now, as first re­port­ed by The Philadel­phia In­quir­er re­cent­ly. Some of those staffers are com­ing from near­by Up­per Meri­on and RTP, and a GSK spokesman tells me that the phar­ma gi­ant is al­so hir­ing.

Back in late 2014, when the com­pa­ny out­lined plans to lay off 900 staffers in its WARN let­ter to the state, GSK had a siz­able 2,500 R&D work­force in RTP. To­day, a spokesper­son tells me that’s dwin­dled down to about 400 as the com­pa­ny fol­lowed through on its cost-re­duc­tion plan.

Hun­dreds of the work­ers were trans­ferred to GSK’s CRO, Parex­el, which prompt­ly turned around and laid many of the same work­ers off in its own down­siz­ing ef­fort — out­sourc­ing the lay­offs, so to speak.

“To­day there is a very much re­duced scale of R&D ac­tiv­i­ty in RTP,” says the spokesper­son for GSK. “What re­mains in RTP is some in­fec­tious dis­ease re­search (in­clud­ing Vi­iV folks), late-stage re­search groups, reg­u­la­to­ry and med­ical func­tions.” A “hand­ful” of those peo­ple may still be in tran­si­tion, she adds.

GSK, though, is still in­vest­ing heav­i­ly in R&D, as its $250 mil­lion lab project un­der­scores. The com­pa­ny spends about $4.4 bil­lion per year on R&D.

Makeovers like this have be­come the rule rather than the ex­cep­tion in Big Phar­ma. No­var­tis’ lat­est re­jig­ger hap­pened weeks ago, as Mer­ck was over­haul­ing its ops with an eye to cre­at­ing a new hub in the Bay Area. As­traZeneca is build­ing a South San Fran­cis­co re­search hub as well. Pfiz­er long ago re­lo­cat­ed much of its re­search staff in­to Boston/Cam­bridge, warn­ing at the time that there would al­ways be a fo­cus on re­fin­ing and chang­ing in the face of new R&D pri­or­i­ties. Shire has been re­lo­cat­ing staffers in­to its Boston-area HQ. And so on.

In Big Phar­ma, on­go­ing R&D re­or­ga­ni­za­tions are quite com­mon. Few things stay set­tled for long.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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Div­ing deep­er in­to in­her­it­ed reti­nal dis­or­ders, No­var­tis gob­bles up an­oth­er bite-sized op­to­ge­net­ics biotech

Right about a year ago, a Novartis team led by Jay Bradner and Cynthia Grosskreutz at NIBR swooped in to scoop up a Cambridge, MA-based opthalmology gene therapy company called Vedere. Their focus was on a rather narrow market niche: inherited retinal dystrophies that include a wide range of genetic retinal disorders marked by the loss of photoreceptor cells and progressive vision loss.

But that was just the first deal that whet their appetite.

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Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

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Mi­rati tri­umphs again in KRAS-mu­tat­ed lung can­cer with a close­ly watched FDA fil­ing now in the cards

After a busy weekend at #ESMO21, which included a big readout for its KRAS drug adagrasib in colon cancer, Mirati Therapeutics is ready to keep the pressure on competitor Amgen with lung cancer data that will undergird an upcoming filing.

In topline results from a Phase II cohort of its KRYSTAL-1 study, adagrasib posted a response rate of 43% in second-line-or-later patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer containing a KRAS-G12C mutation, Mirati said Monday.

FDA hands ac­cel­er­at­ed nod to Seagen, Gen­mab's so­lo ADC in cer­vi­cal can­cer, but com­bo stud­ies look even more promis­ing

Biopharma’s resident antibody-drug conjugate expert Seagen has scored a clutch of oncology approvals in recent years, finding gold in what are known as “third-gen” ADCs. Now, another of their partnered conjugates is ready for prime time.

The FDA on Monday handed an accelerated approval to Seagen and Genmab’s Tivdak (tisotumab vedotin-tftv, or “TV”) in second-line patients with recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer who previously progressed after chemotherapy rather than PD-(L)1 systemic therapy, the companies said in a release.

Mi­rati's KRAS drug looks like the ear­ly fa­vorite in colon can­cer with new da­ta, putting the pres­sure square on Am­gen

With Amgen already providing proof-of-concept for KRAS inhibitors with its sotorasib, Mirati Therapeutics is piecing together a follow-up effort in lung cancer with data it thinks are superior. But in colon cancer, where solo sotorasib has turned in a dud, Mirati may now have a strong case for superiority.

Mirati’s adagrasib, dosed solo or in combination with chemotherapy cetuximab, showed numerically higher response rates than sotorasib solo and as part of a combination study in a similar patient population also revealed this week at #ESMO21. Mirati’s data were presented as part of a cohort update from the Phase II KRYSTAL-1 study testing adagrasib in a range of solid tumors harboring the KRAS-G12C mutation.

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Ex­elix­is pulls a sur­prise win in thy­roid can­cer just days ahead of fi­nal Cabome­tyx read­out

Exelixis added a thyroid cancer indication to its super-seller Cabometyx’s label on Friday — months before the FDA was expected to make a decision, and days before the company was set to unveil the final data at #ESMO21.

At a median follow-up of 10.1 months, differentiated thyroid cancer patients treated with Cabometyx (cabozantinib) lived a median of 11 months without their disease worsening, compared to just 1.9 months for patients given a placebo, Exelixis said on Monday.