Eli Lilly's R&D revolving door spins again as Gandhi heads back to Dana-Farber

(Eli Lilly/LinkedIn)

A little over two years into her stint leading immuno-oncology medical development at Eli Lilly, Leena Gandhi M.D., Ph.D., is hitting the exit.

She wrote recently on her LinkedIn: “After an inspiring introduction to this year's virtual ASCO from Skip Burris emphasizing the importance of bringing novel therapeutics into cancer care, I am excited to be returning to academic phase I oncology and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute as Director of the Center for Therapeutic Innovation. To my colleagues in the industry, let's collaborate and work together!”

Strangely, there was no formal release from Eli Lilly; the pharma had not replied to comment at the time of writing.

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Gandhi, a thoracic oncologist, was tapped in April 2018 to head up a team tasked with overseeing the advance of Lilly’s portfolio of immuno-oncology prospects.

She joined Lilly from NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center, where she served as director of thoracic medical oncology. In that capacity and during an earlier spell at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Gandhi played a leading role in multiple phase 1 to 3 clinical trials, including Merck’s KEYNOTE-189 study of a Keytruda-based combination in patients with NSCLC.

Now, she’s heading back to Dana-Farber.

Things have changed a lot for Lilly however since the spring of 2018: Late last year, Lilly made moves to revamp its cancer research unit, combining the oncology team at Lilly Research Laboratories with Loxo Oncology, the biotech it picked up for $8 billion in January—and putting a trio of Loxo execs at the helm.

The new research organization, dubbed Loxo Oncology at Lilly, will be led by Josh Bilenker, M.D., Jacob Van Naarden and Nisha Nanda, Ph.D., who were the biotech’s CEO, chief operating officer and chief development officer, respectively. David Hyman, M.D., who leads the early drug development service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, will join the trio as chief medical officer in January.

The move comes four months after Lilly’s cancer research chief, Levi Garraway, M.D., Ph.D., departed the Big Pharma for greener pastures. To fill the vacuum, the company put Bilenker in charge of its oncology research and early-phase development “in the interim,” a seeming overlap with Gandhi’s focus.

The new unit will take over discovery research, clinical development and regulatory affairs in oncology, handing programs over to Lilly’s Oncology Business Unit as they near U.S. regulatory approval. The oncology business team, headed by Anne White, will pick up clinical development, commercialization and medical affairs support.

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