GSK hires Branson from Genentech to boost AI team

GlaxoSmithKline GSK House in Brentford, UK
GlaxoSmithKline has given Kim Branson oversight of its efforts to use artificial intelligence to find novel drug targets. (GlaxoSmithKline)

GlaxoSmithKline has bolstered its artificial intelligence team by hiring Kim Branson from Genentech. The appointment gives Branson oversight of GSK’s efforts to use AI to find novel drug targets.

Branson headed up AI at Genentech’s early clinical development unit for about a year before joining GSK recently as global head of artificial intelligence and machine learning. The appointment is the latest in a series of moves by GSK designed to revitalize its R&D operation through the use of technology.  

“The most impactful way any company will change its performance is making the timelines shorter, the costs lower and the probability of success higher,” GSK CEO Emma Walmsley told Bloomberg, the first publication to report news of Branson’s appointment.

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Branson arrives at GSK following a career spent straddling the line between drug development and computing. Early in his career, Branson spent two years at computational drug design pioneer Vertex before sidestepping into health data and analytics at Gliimpse—which Apple acquired—and Lumiata.

Genentech attracted Branson back into biopharma in 2018 but was unable to keep hold of him for long. At GSK, Branson has joined up with a growing pool of Genentech alumni led by Hal Barron. 

Some of the changes made to GSK’s R&D group under Barron and Walmsley have related to AI. Months after Walmsley took over as CEO, GSK formed a pact with AI-enabled drug discovery shop Exscientia. Around the same time, GSK put John Baldoni in charge of new AI-focused group and teamed up with Insilico Medicine. In 2018, GSK joined forced with another AI startup, Cloud Pharmaceuticals.

The flurry of activity is part of a broader, industrywide exploration of the potential for technology to made R&D more efficient, either by accelerating the process or cutting the failure rate. 

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