Barron quits GSK to take CEO post at $3B biotech startup, leaving Wood to finish what he began

Hal Barron, M.D., is leaving GlaxoSmithKline. After four years as chief scientific officer, Barron is leaving to take up the CEO post at a deep-pocketed, wildly ambitious biotech startup—leaving Pfizer veteran Tony Wood, Ph.D., in charge of the scientific side of the company.

Barron joined GSK at the start of 2018 as part of efforts by Emma Walmsley, then newly appointed as CEO, to revitalize the lackluster R&D side of the business. The appointment was a coup for GSK, which lured Barron back into large biopharma after his stint at Google’s stealthy biotech sibling Calico. GSK was looking for Barron to replicate some of the success he had during his years at Genentech and Roche.

As with many CSO departures, Barron is leaving GSK before it is possible to fully evaluate the success of his spell at the company. Under Barron, GSK made some bold bets, such as the cell therapy partnership with Lyell Immunopharma that gave the company a 14% stake in its preclinical partner and the $625 million it handed iTeos Therapeutics for rights to an anti-TIGIT monoclonal antibody. But it is too early to tell where those deals will fall on the spectrum that runs from costly flops to transformational successes.

In disclosing his departure, Barron defined his spell at GSK in terms of numbers, pointing to the 13 major product approvals and the doubling of the number of assets in phase 3/registration to 23 as evidence of success. The GSK pipeline now features 21 vaccines and 42 medicines.

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Responsibility for seeing those projects to fruition and restocking the pipeline with fresh prospects will fall on Wood, who spent 25 years at Pfizer before leaving to take up a SVP post at GSK in 2017. Wood is currently responsible for the science and technology platforms that support drug discovery and development at GSK. In August, Wood will take full accountability for R&D at GSK. 

“Tony has been a key partner to Hal in delivering our R&D approach, and with his experience and expertise across science, data and new technologies, he is perfectly placed to build on Hal’s outstanding progress and to deliver value from our pipeline,” Walmsley said in a statement.

Barron will transition to a nonexecutive director role with additional responsibilities to support R&D at GSK when he hands the reins to Wood, freeing him up to take on the CEO position at Altos Labs, a new biotech that begins life with $3 billion in committed capital and a focus on cellular rejuvenation.