GSK drops lung injury drugs as respiratory clear-out continues

GSK CSO Hal Barron
GSK Chief Scientific Officer Hal Barron (GlaxoSmithKline)

GlaxoSmithKline has terminated (PDF) 11 projects over the past 12 months. The respiratory franchise bore the brunt of the cuts at a time when some GSK staff were questioning the wisdom of investing in the field.

Almost half of the terminations affect respiratory drugs that advanced as far as phase 2 studies before being deemed surplus to requirements. In many cases, the stoppages were proceeded by terminations and withdrawals of trials involving the drugs. GSK cited lack of efficacy, change in the benefit-risk profile and operational considerations to explain why it terminated the clinical trials.

Many of the clinical trial terminations and withdrawals happened earlier in the year, resulting in the affected drugs being removed from the pipeline in previous updates from GSK. But the most recent update also brought some new terminations.  

Two of the three assets removed from phase 2 in the most recent update are drugs with respiratory uses. GSK picked up one of the drugs, the enzyme GSK2586881, in 2010 through a deal with Apeiron Biologics and took it into a phase 2 pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) trial. That study wrapped up earlier this year and marks the end of the road for GSK2586881 in PAH or acute lung injury at GSK.

GSK tossed out GSK2586881 around the same time that it dropped another acute lung injury drug, GSK2862277. The TNFR1 antagonist also made it as far as phase 2, only for GSK to stop the trial “on the basis that protocol defined stopping criteria had been met.”

Other GSK units have canned drugs—the most recent batch of R&D terminations features a hepatitis C vaccine and inflammatory bowel disease drug—but the ax has fallen most often on the respiratory franchise. The focus of the cuts is in keeping with a belief among some GSK staff that the R&D budget is better spent on therapeutic areas outside of respiratory disease. 

“Our respiratory franchise ... has been a driver for GSK R&D for a long time and we've been very successful with it … but it's also pretty flat. There is not much growth to be expected,” Axel Hoos, GSK’s head of oncology, told S&P Global Market Intelligence last year. "I actually think we have to do some clean-up. Our portfolio is still too big and we need to just stop a few projects that are less likely to succeed.”