Amid R&D rejigs, GlaxoSmithKline axes 6 pipeline assets

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The company is cutting a number of respiratory drugs as it eyes a more cancer-focused future. (GSK)

GlaxoSmithKline is cutting a host of unwanted investigational drugs as it joins other Big Pharmas in the fourth-quarter clear-out.

The assets, under the very brief line 'terminated', are predominately from a respiratory pipeline and one rare disease:

·       GSK1325756 (aka danirixin) in COPD;

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·       GSK2269557 (aka nemiralisib), also in COPD;

·       A combo of GSK2398852 and GSK2315698 (an anti-SAP) in AL/ATTR-CM;

·       GSK2245035 (a TLR7 agonist) in asthma;

·       GSK2798745 (TRPV4 antagonist) in ARDS and cough;

      GSK3008348 (aVb6 antagonist) in IPF.

Danirixin, a CXCR2 antagonist, GSK2798745 and GSK2245035 were all marked as trial flops in GSK’s third-quarter update last year, while GSK2398852 and GSK2315698 were in a midstage test for transthyretin cardiomyopathy (ATTR-CM) and in patients with immunoglobulin light chain systemic amyloidosis, which is already catered for/in the clinic from Alnylam and Pfizer.

Aside from the obvious culls of failed drugs, the fact that most are from its respiratory pipeline will be of little surprise, given that last quarter, the British Big Pharma said it was mulling pulling back in areas such as respiratory in order to commit more cash to cancer R&D.

This was according to Axel Hoos, GSK’s head of oncology, who told S&P Global Market Intelligence in October that its new research head Hal Barron was keen to funnel resources into the areas with the most growth potential, putting the future of the key respiratory unit in question.

Respiratory has been a cornerstone of GSK’s business for years but the long-term growth prospects of the field, both at the Big Pharma and in general, are debatable. GSK’s respiratory sales fell over the first six months of last year as rising demand for the Ellipta line of products failed to offset fast-falling revenues from Advair.

GSK has been pushing 11 respiratory drugs through the clinic, some in multiple indications, in a bid to set the unit up for future growth. But Hoos, who would benefit from money being redirected to oncology, has raised the question of whether the respiratory R&D dollars could be better elsewhere.

He told S&P: “I don't want to be inappropriate and step on some toes, but we have areas that have a higher probability of growth and areas with a lower probability of growth,” Hoos said. “Our respiratory franchise, for example, has been a driver for GSK R&D for a long time and we've been very successful with it … but it's also pretty flat. There is not much growth to be expected.”

Hoos went on to frame the respiratory franchise “a very successful business” that is hamstrung by R&D challenges. “It's just much harder to innovate in respiratory than it is to innovate in oncology,” Hoos said.

Today, GSK disputed that it was looking to exit its respiratory R&D altogether, saying to FierceBiotech:

“GSK is a world leader in respiratory, developing modern medicines to treat and advance the management of conditions including asthma and COPD. This includes launching six innovative medicines over the last five years.

“We continue to innovate in respiratory with a number of important clinical programmes, including a major data readout expected this year to support a filing for asthma. Our respiratory medicines continue to play a key role in our improved performance as a company, with respiratory being the largest component of our Pharma turnover, accounting for over 35% of total Pharma sales.”

That view is supported by a comparison between the marginal gains associated with many recent respiratory drugs and the life-changing advances seen in the oncology sector. Given that, it’s no shock that GSK has re-prioritized oncology R&D and is today starting to swing the ax on some of its respiratory work.

RELATED: Merck KGaA, GSK pen $4.2B biobucks pact for next-gen Bavencio

GSK’s oncology division underwent a major change in 2015 when the company swapped assets with Novartis and has been a minor player since then.

Barron has worked to change that since arriving at the company at the start of the year, and has put GSK’s money where his mouth is: Last month, it signed off on a $5.1 billion purchase of cancer biotech Tesaro, and just this week, penned a potential $4.2 billion biobucks collaboration with Germany’s Merck KGaA for work on its Bavencio 2.0 drug.

And this was a boon for GSK’s newest partner, which also announced a boost to its R&D staffers as a result of its deal, with EMD Serono, the Rockland-based biologic of Merck KGaA, announcing a $70 million, 145,000-square-foot expansion of its Billerica R&D facility, plus 100 new staffers, as it ramps up its I-O work.  

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