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GSK indicates a return to oncology by appointing Roche veteran

Published on 09/11/17 at 08:45am

GSK, under its new CEO, has made most of its waves recently not with approvals but with high-profile appointments, and it continued in this trend with the appointment Hal Barron.

The decision to have brought Barron in as Chief Scientific Officer and President, R&D, alongside a position on the board of the company, has already garnered a fair amount of interest. This is mainly down to Barron’s track record with Genentech, as its SVP and CMO, where he brought through a swathe of successful treatments, including Avastin, Tarceva and Perjeta.

It will be noted that these treatments all lie within oncology – an area that Andrew Witty had previously backed GSK away from, after the sale of the company’s late-stage oncology profile to Novartis.

This suggests that GSK could well be considering revving up the company’s oncology profile again, with Barron at the helm.

Barron will begin his role on 1 January, joining the company from Google start-up, Calico. The research performed at the company has been kept closely under wraps, though it is known to focus on the ageing process.

Emma Walmsley, CEO of GSK, talked up the significance of the appointment as step towards a more research-focused company under her leadership, saying: “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. Hal has exceptional experience and a strong track record of developing significant new medicines from his time at Roche and Genentech; whilst at Calico he has helped build a research organisation that uses cutting-edge technologies in drug discovery and development. He is also very well known for his integrity, for being a clinician who is committed to always doing the best he can for patients and for building exceptional teams.”

Barron will be taking charge of the San Francisco offices, focused on business development for R&D, whilst also expected to convene with GSK’s base in Stevenage, UK.

It is not the only major appointment the company has made, with Barron following Luke Miels, a former colleague at Roche, and Karenann Terrell joining the company.

Barron said of his appointment, “I am honoured to have been chosen for this important position especially given the company’s renewed focus on discovering and developing transformational new medicines. GSK is a company with a rich history of innovation, with many talented scientists who care deeply about translating great science into therapies that make a meaningful difference for patients. I believe there is a significant opportunity to accelerate this effort and am looking forward to joining Emma and the team on this mission.”

The combined statement by both Barron and Walmsley suggest an awareness that investors are beginning to become restless with GSK’s approach, with a failure to bring through the blockbusters required to drive growth. GSK’s former head of R&D looks likely to have fallen foul of this sentiment, moving on to become the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser.

GSK’s share price ticked upwards 1% on the release of the news.

Ben Hargreaves

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