Eli Lilly cancer chief Levi Garraway replaced by Loxo CEO Josh Bilenker (for now) as Big Pharma rings the changes

Lilly
Eli Lilly is putting Loxo CEO Josh Bilenker, M.D., in charge of its oncology research and early phase development. (Eli Lilly/LinkedIn)

Amid a series of change-ups to its top executive team this morning, Eli Lilly has moved its biotech buy’s CEO into its oncology division, as Levi Garraway, M.D., Ph.D., hits the exit.

Lilly bought Loxo Oncology for around $8 billion at the start of the year as it looked to boost its cancer work, which has been pretty thin over the years, and eight months down the line is now putting Loxo’s CEO, Josh Bilenker, M.D., in charge of its oncology research and early phase development “in the interim.”

Details are light, but the “interim” part is because this wasn’t a planned succession. Lilly says Garraway has “resigned from his position … in order to pursue other opportunities.”

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This comes after a series of setbacks in cancer for the company, including a recent safety warning being slapped on its key breast cancer therapy Verzenio, while also clearing out a host of midstage cancer drugs.

The buying of Loxo was a bright spot for the start of 2019, but just a few short weeks later, it also saw a damaging trial failure for soft tissue sarcoma launch Lartruvo, leading the drugmaker to stop promotion of the drug. With the deal, the company got access to FDA-approved tumor agnostic cancer drug Vitrakvi, which treats patients whose tumors feature a neurotrophic receptor tyrosine kinase gene fusion, regardless of location in the body.

The Loxo deal also brought several pipeline drugs, which Bilenker will be familiar with: a follow-up TRK inhibitor, an oral BTK inhibitor and a RET inhibitor called LOXO-292 that has received an FDA breakthrough therapy designation. LOXO-292 could represent a 2020 launch opportunity, Lilly said.

RELATED: Richard Gaynor retires from Lilly Oncology; Dana-Farber’s Garraway steps up

Bilenker takes over from Garraway, a former associate professor of medicine in the Department of Medical Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, but it’s unclear whether this will evolve into a full-time position.

Garraway himself took over three years ago from Richard Gaynor, M.D., who had been at the Big Pharma for 15 years.

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