Alessandro Riva to leave Gilead to lead Glenmark spinoff

Glenmark R&D center in Nashik, India. (Glenmark Pharmaceuticals)

Alessandro Riva is set to leave Gilead to take up the CEO role at Glenmark Pharmaceuticals’ new spinoff. The Indian drugmaker’s hiring coup leaves Gilead without the oncology leader that oversaw its takeover of Kite Pharma and push into CAR-T.

Riva arrived at Gilead at the start of 2017 with a brief to energize its floundering oncology unit by swiftly identifying and landing takeover targets. Within eight months of Riva’s arrival, Gilead unveiled its $11.9 billion takeover of Kite Pharma. The deal established Gilead as the chief rival to Novartis, the former employer of Riva, in the emerging CAR-T sector.  

Now, Riva is moving on again. The appointment puts Riva in charge of a spinout from Glenmark, an Indian pharma company best known for its generics business. Glenmark outlined plans to spin off its pipeline of novel drugs, three R&D centers and production plant into a new company last month.

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Riva will run this 400-person, eight-asset spinoff. Phase 2b atopic dermatitis and non-opioid pain drugs—anti-OX40R antibody GBR 830 and mPGES-1 inhibitor GRC 27864—are the most advanced assets in the Glenmark pipeline. But oncology prospects, and specifically bispecifics developed using Glenmark’s BEAT platform, form the core of the pipeline Riva will inherit.

Half of the assets are in oncology, with the rest split evenly between immunology and pain. Three of the oncology drugs are bispecific antibodies, a modality that threatens to steal the thunder of CAR-Ts by delivering comparable efficacy without the toxicity, logistical complications and associated costs.

The pipeline of bispecifics is led by HER2xCD3 drug GBR 1302 and CD38xCD3 asset GBR 1342, which are in phase 1 in HER2-positive cancers and multiple myeloma, respectively. Teams at Amgen, Roche and other drug developers have explored targeting CD3 in addition to HER2 or CD38 as a way to stimulate T cell-mediated killing, thereby countering resistance and otherwise boosting efficacy.

Glenmark has another CD3 bispecific, which targets EGFR, back in preclinical testing as a treatment for colorectal cancer. The fourth cancer asset is a small molecule “based on tumor antigen presenting biology.”

Riva is set to leave Gilead to take charge of these assets at the end of the month. The timing means new Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day will spend some of the early part of his tenure trying to fill the hole in the leadership team created by Riva’s departure. 

Glenmark expects the transfer of assets to its spin-out company to take 6 to 9 months. Beyond that, the spin-out will operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Glenmark with an independent board and CEO. 

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