GSK vaccine R&D chief jumps ship to Viome amid COVID-19 vaccine setbacks

Viome's new Global Head of R&D Emmanuel Hanon
Viome's new global head of R&D Emmanuel Hanon, Ph.D.

GlaxoSmithKline’s Emmanuel Hanon, Ph.D., will depart as chief of vaccines research to explore the microbiome at Viome after a year in which the pharmaceutical giant perplexed the pharma world with a restrained and bumpy pathway to COVID-19 R&D.

When the coronavirus first began spreading around the world, GlaxoSmithKline—with a vaccine empire that brought in £7 billion ($9.6 billion) in 2020—seemed like a sure bet to lead the race. Instead, the maker of shingles vaccine Shingrix faced a number of clinical stumbles and instead offered up its proprietary adjuvant to boost other vaccine makers’ products should they need it.

It did, however, later team up with rival French vaccine pharma Sanofi, as the pair attempted to use a more traditional approach to the mRNA platforms favored by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, but hit a major snag last year when their vaccine did not help older patients as well as needed.

They tweaked the vaccine and started new tests, but this has put them both on the back foot in a global race to produce as many vaccines as possible, hitting both GSK and Sanofi's reputations as their peers leapt ahead.

It is within this backdrop that Hanon will now leave after 20 years of doing R&D at GSK for little-known Viome, a company examining the microbiome to predict and prevent chronic diseases. Viome has a direct-to-consumer model that provides “precision” nutrition, drugs and vaccines. The company’s gut analysis products are sold on Amazon.

"I am very grateful for my time with GSK, which allowed me to transform my scientific curiosity into preventative interventions that have the potential to help millions of people," Hanon said in a statement.

Hanon’s resume at GSK includes contributing to the development of vaccines for human papilloma virus, malaria, tuberculosis, seasonal and pandemic influenza, shingles, meningitis and respiratory syncytial virus. He most recently served as senior vice president, head of vaccine research and development and was a member of GSK's vaccine executive team. 

The jump is not into the unknown for Hanon, who established a partnership between GSK and Viome in 2019 aiming to prevent chronic disease and reduce relapses.

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"Since establishing partnerships between GSK and Viome a few years ago, I have been blown away by the company's technology and truly believe that its focus on precision medicine is the future of healthcare,” Hanon said.

In his new role, Hanon will lead Viome’s therapeutic programs to identify host/microbial interactions using the company’s database of gene expression. He will officially start the role July 1 but has already joined Viome’s science advisory board.

Hanon is not the only recent departure from GSK’s vaccines business and comes amid an exodus of research talent for the British drugmaker: Amir Reichman, ex-head of global vaccines engineering core technologies, left at the beginning of 2021 to lead BiondVax Pharmaceuticals, while head of U.S. pharmaceuticals Jack Bailey also bailed five months prior to Reichman. 

GSK had 57 vaccines in development as of the end of fiscal year 2020, which will now be in someone else’s hands.