AstraZeneca and MedImmune, still reeling from a combo survival failure of its new immuno-oncology med Imfinzi (durvalumab) and experimental med tremelimumab in lung cancer, have hired a clutch of new cancer R&D execs.
First up is medical oncologist Jean-Charles Soria, who joins MedImmune as SVP and head of oncology innovative medicines, coming from being a Professor of Medicine and Medical Oncology at South-Paris University—one of the largest French universities.
He’s also been chair of the Drug Development Department at the Institut Gustave Roussy, and a member of the lung cancer unit with a focus on targeted therapies—expertise AstraZeneca will want to tap, given its attempts in that area.
Soria will lead a team at MedImmune responsible for the strategy, growth and “advancement of the early oncology biologics portfolio, which includes oncology research, translational medicine, and early oncology development,” the company said in a statement.
And then there’s Geoffrey Kim, who has been appointed as head of oncology strategic combinations at AstraZeneca. Kim comes from the FDA, where for the last two years he has been director of the division of oncology products. He had been at the FDA since 2010, also working as its medical officer in the division of oncology products.
Kim and his team will focus on the development of the company’s late-stage immuno-oncology combo program with the “ultimate goal of developing combination regimens that will deliver innovative medicines to patients.”
This also comes on the same day that AZ announced the FDA had given PD-L1 medication Imfinzi a “breakthrough” tag for its Pacific trial in patients with locally-advanced, unresectable non-small cell lung cancer whose disease has not progressed following platinum-based chemoradiation therapy. The drug has been approved by FDA for late-stage patients with urothelial carcinoma.
The focus of these hires is on combos—and a combo that grabbed all the headlines last week, but for all the wrong reasons, was its Imfinzi-tremelimumab therapy in first-line non-small cell lung cancer patients. Both the combo approach, and Imfinzi on its own, failed to boost progression-free survival, missing a key primary endpoint in the so-called Mystic phase 3 trial.
The U.K.-based drugmaker, who has also seen questions over the future of its CEO Pascal Soriot in recent weeks, has said it’s still hopeful this therapy can boost overall survival, with data out next year; but analysts and investors remain skeptical, and its shares took a battering on the trial update last week.
MedImmune, bought for around $15.6 billion a decade ago, has not as yet turned out to be the Genentech or Genzyme purchase that has helped boost rivals Roche and Sanofi, respectively.
Its biotech arm has seen personnel setbacks, and last year lost Yong-Jun Liu, one of the world’s most prolific researchers in immunology and head of research at MedImmune, to Big Pharma rival Sanofi.
A few years back, they also lost Peter Emtage, who was involved in early research at the unit, and Rachel Humphrey, former SVP and head of immuno-oncology, who left the company for undisclosed personal reasons. Last year, MedImmune also started to reduce its headcount overall, as part of a broader plan to focus in on cancer, and away from some other areas.
Bahija Jallal, EVP at MedImmune, said: “AstraZeneca and MedImmune are delighted to welcome Dr. Soria and Dr. Kim. Our ability to attract these recognized experts in the fast-developing field of immuno-oncology speaks to our exciting pipeline of innovative cancer treatments and our commitment to pushing the boundaries of science.”
Both Soria and Kim will be based in Gaithersburg, Maryland.