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GSK’s R&D head to move on after shift in focus

Published on 03/11/17 at 10:16am

There has been a raft of changes at senior levels of GSK since Emma Walmsley took over the role from Andrew Witty, with the latest seeing its R&D head set to leave to become the UK government’s Chief Scientific Adviser.

Patrick Vallance has held the role with GSK since 2006, after joining the company from UCL, but has presided over a period that has had few blockbuster breakthroughs for the company. Walmsley has made it clear that she sees the need for a greater communication between the R&D and commercial arm of the business.

To this end, one of the first moves she made upon becoming CEO was to poach Luke Miels from AstraZeneca and instate him as President of Global Pharmaceuticals. Miels’ remit is to choose on which drugs to push through the pipeline – a task that could be seen as encroaching onto the position of the head of R&D.

However, the Financial Times, who broke the story, stated that Vallance’s decision to leave for the government role was purely motivated by the opportunity and not to do with conditions at GSK.

With this noted, Walmsley’s decision to cut away more than 30 drug projects to refocus on key therapeutic areas (respiratory and HIV/infectious diseases, as well as oncology and immune-inflammation) cannot be seen otherwise than as an indictment of the direction of the development of the company’s pipeline.

This narrowing of focus already claimed the scalp of one senior member of the medical team, with Murray Stewart, formerly Chief Medical Officer, left his position to join Novelion Therapeutics – a biotech focused on developing treatments for rare metabolic diseases.

Neither the government nor GSK has officially confirmed the reports that Vallance may be on his way. Current interim Chief Scientific Advisor, Chris Whitty, has only held the position since September of this year, after it was announced that Mark Walport would be set to leave the position to become Chief Executive of the UK Research and Innovation body in April 2018.

Ben Hargreaves

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