GSK's cancer pipeline doubles as Barron's plan takes effect

Hal Barron has talked up the progress of his effort to rebuild GlaxoSmithKline’s cancer pipeline. The clinical oncology pipeline now features 17 assets, setting GSK up to run a range of monotherapy and combination studies. 

A year ago, GSK’s oncology pipeline featured eight assets, just one of which had advanced past phase 2. Under Chief Scientific Officer Barron, GSK has stepped up its focus on oncology, leading the Big Pharma to pay $5.1 billion to acquire Tesaro and hand over a $300 million upfront for a stake in Merck KGaA’s M7824. With GSK’s own researchers also moving assets into the clinic, the pipeline has grown quickly.

“Our oncology pipeline is now significantly stronger than it was a year ago with more than a doubling of the number of oncology assets in the clinic,” Barron told investors. “We also believe that many of these molecules can be combined together to enable innovative combination studies.” 

The jury is still out on whether the oncology bets placed by GSK under Barron’s scientific leadership will pay off, but there is now the possibility the company will become a player in the cancer field. Readouts over the coming months will provide pointers as to whether GSK will realize that possibility. 

GSK expects to deliver data from a clutch of cancer trials by the end of the year, including pivotal readouts on anti-BCMA drug belantamab mafodotin and anti-PD-1 antibody dostarlimab. Midphase readouts from trials of protein arginine methyltransferase 5 inhibitor GSK3326595 and BET inhibitor GSK525762 are also in the pipeline.

Barron cited belantamab mafodotin as “a good example” of GSK’s “cultural progress in terms of improving our focus and investing behind the most promising effort.” Having identified the drug as a particularly promising asset, GSK plotted out a broad development strategy featuring a handful of clinical trial initiations over the coming year. The plan is designed to get belantamab mafodotin to market in multiple myeloma patients failed by Darzalex before moving it into earlier lines of care.  

In the longer term, the success of Barron’s efforts to cast off GSK’s reputation as an R&D laggard will rest on earlier-stage initiatives. The alliance with 23andMe has identified six targets the partners plan to progress together. Barron hopes to get the first joint program into the clinic next year. In parallel, GSK is investing in internal artificial intelligence capabilities in an attempt to improve early target discovery.