GlaxoSmithKline poaches Pfizer vax leader Dormitzer after hemorrhaging vaccine R&D talent

GlaxoSmithKline GSK House in Brentford, UK

GlaxoSmithKline has seen a host of vaccine research staffers exit the Big Pharma over the past year, but it’s hoping a big name can get its vaccine business back on track.

That name is Phil Dormitzer, M.D., Ph.D., who joins the British company as its new global head of vaccine R&D and was previously vice president and chief scientific officer for RNA and viral vaccines at rival Pfizer.

In that role, he worked on Pfizer and BioNTech’s now world-famous COVID vaccine Comirnaty as well as on Pfizer’s experimental RSV vaccine and its early RNA work on influenza (which was also being done alongside BioNTech).  

He will help shore up GSK’s own work on COVID, which includes partnership deals with Sanofi and CureVac (the former of which has weathered a setback in the past year) as well as in RSV, a common cold virus that can cause serious chest infections and death in the very young or very old.

Pfizer and GSK are, in fact, in a head-to-head battle in the RSV vaccine race, with both releasing positive data this year and gunning for the finish line. Pfizer’s work has been more quiet, but Dormitzer’s move to GSK will be a boon to the pharma amid a tight battle.

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“I am delighted to have Phil, a renowned vaccinologist and scientific leader, join GSK,” said Hal Barron, M.D., CSO and president of R&D at GSK and the man Dormitzer will report to.

“The importance of vaccines has never been clearer, and the pace of technological innovation has rarely been greater. GSK has an industry-leading pipeline of vaccines and Phil’s scientific expertise and significant experience with key innovative technologies, such as mRNA, structure-based antigen design and synthetic biology, will be key to ensuring we remain a leader in this field.”

This comes after a mini exodus of vaccine talent for GSK, including its former vaccine research chief Emmanuel Hanon, Ph.D., who left in the spring to join microbiome player Viome.

That departure was hot on the heels of the exit of Amir Reichman, former head of global vaccines engineering core technologies, who left at the beginning of 2021 to lead BiondVax Pharmaceuticals; head of U.S. pharmaceuticals Jack Bailey also bailed five months prior to Reichman. 

The hope is that Dormitzer, who will be based in Boston, can help steady the ship going into 2022, which could be a major year for GSK in RSV and COVID.