Galapagos CSO Wigerinck hits the bricks after major setbacks

exit sign
Setbacks raised concerns about R&D decision-making at Galapagos. (GH01/ iStock)

Piet Wigerinck, Ph.D., is set to step down as chief scientific officer of Galapagos later this year. The departure follows a series of setbacks that have left Galapagos struggling to rebuild confidence in its diminished pipeline.

Wigerinck joined Galapagos in 2008 and stepped up to the CSO post four years later. Over his time at Galapagos, Wigerinck oversaw the Belgian biotech’s first clinical trial and the phase 2 FITZROY and DARWIN studies of the once-hyped JAK1 inhibitor filgotinib. Now, with Galapagos reeling from the FDA’s rejection of filgotinib and the failure of a phase 3 ziritaxestat trial, Wigerinck is moving on.

Walid Abi-Saab, M.D., chief medical officer at Galapagos, has taken over the early-stage development tasks previously handled by Wigerinck. However, although, the transfer of power is immediate, Wigerinck will stick around for the next five months to steer research while Galapagos looks for a new leader.

Wigerinck is leaving at a point when his legacy is uncertain. While filgotinib has come to market in the EU, Gilead Sciences has dropped plans to seek FDA approval in rheumatoid arthritis, and it is doubtful whether the drug will ever live up to pre-rejection blockbuster sales forecasts. Ziritaxestat, another drug that advanced under Wigerinck, failed a phase 3 idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis trial. 

The setbacks raised concerns about R&D decision-making at Galapagos, which responded to the blows by assessing the process it uses to advance compounds, pulling out of certain early research areas and stopping development of some assets as part of a push to save 150 million euros ($179 million).

However, it remains possible that some of the assets that advanced into early-stage development under the leadership of Wigerinck will go on to be clinical and commercial successes. Galapagos CEO Onno van de Stolpe picked out TYK2 inhibitor GLPG3667 and SIK2/SIK3 inhibitor GLPG3970 as part of the “considerable legacy” of the departing CSO.

Setbacks to other assets have ramped up the importance of upcoming readouts on the two drugs, both for Wigerinck’s legacy and Galapagos’ prospects of recovering from its recent travails. Data on GLPG3970 are due later this year. The impact of the readout extends beyond GLPG3970 to the wider SIK-focused “Toledo” program, which Galapagos has hyped up and bet big on.