Bristol-Myers unveils team to lead R&D after Celgene deal closes

Bristol-Myers Squibb
Bristol-Myers Squibb Chief Scientific Officer Tom Lynch is set to leave the Big Pharma by the start of October. (Bristol-Myers Squibb)

Bristol-Myers Squibb has unveiled the new-look team that will lead its R&D group after the closure of its Celgene takeover. The Big Pharma is dividing the group up into early- and late-phase development, handing Celgene’s Rupert Vessey responsibility for the former and hiring Novartis’ Samit Hirawat to run the latter.

The combined company will possess potential internal candidates for the late-phase post, such as Celgene Chief Medical Officer Jay Backstrom, but Bristol-Myers has opted to hire from outside its walls. Hirawat, a long-standing Novartis employee, is set to leave his position as head of oncology global development at the Swiss pharma to become CMO at Bristol-Myers.

As CMO, Hirawat will lead Bristol-Myers’ global drug development group, giving him responsibility for taking assets from proof of concept to commercialization. 

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Hirawat’s group is one of two functional areas in Bristol-Myers’ post-takeover R&D structure. The other functional area, research and early development (R&ED), will be lead by Vessey.  

Vessey currently serves as president, research and early development at Celgene. Once Bristol-Myers closes its $74 billion takeover of Celgene, the ex-Merck and GlaxoSmithKline researcher will take on the same title at his new employer. 

The post will give Vessey oversight of discovery, early development and translational medicine and will give him a role in identifying external assets in collaboration with the business development group. Bristol-Myers hopes the early-stage groups will form a “cohesive unit” under Vessey’s leadership. 

Bristol-Myers Chief Scientific Officer Tom Lynch has been involved in the areas covered by R&ED since taking up the post in 2017. But, having joined Bristol-Myers from Massachusetts General Physicians Organization, Lynch is set to leave the Big Pharma by the start of October to “pursue opportunities in healthcare.”

Lynch replaced Francis Cuss as CSO when Bristol-Myers was reeling from a key phase 3 Opdivo flop. In revealing Lynch’s imminent departure, Bristol-Myers highlighted the “significant role” the CSO has played in the build-out of its translational medicine capabilities and increased focus on analytics and disease biology.  

The release setting out the post-takeover leadership team makes no mention of other people who currently hold senior R&D positions at Bristol-Myers and Celgene, although there is scope for them to slot into the organization under Vessey and Hirawat.

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