GSK shuffles R&D as research head John Lepore heads out the door

GSK’s senior vice president and head of research John Lepore, M.D., has left the company at the same time the U.K. pharma undergoes a slight shuffling of its R&D operations.   

Lepore leaves after nearly 15 years with GSK and more than five in his most recent position. His departure, as first reported by Endpoints, was confirmed by a GSK spokesperson, who said the pharma was welcoming new leader Kaivan Khavandi, Ph.D., who rejoins from BenevolentAI to head up GSK’s newly reorganized respiratory and immunology sector.

John Lepore, GSK
John Lepore, M.D. (GSK)

In an apparent R&D revamp, GSK has divided its research into a trio of teams that are “more closely aligned” with its core therapeutic groups: respiratory and immunology, vaccines and infectious diseases, and oncology. Senior Vice President and Global Head of Vaccines Phil Dormitzer, M.D., Ph.D., will lead the vaccine and infectious disease unit while Senior Vice President and Global Head of Oncology Development Hesham Abdullah, M.D., will lead the oncology arm. GSK will continue work in HIV through its separate company ViiV.

The changes only apply to the research portion of R&D, meaning the three groups will work on initial discovery and early-stage clinical studies, according to the GSK spokesperson. If an asset reaches phase 2 trials, a separate internal group will assume responsibility of any further development.

When asked whether any layoffs or program cuts were associated with the changes, a GSK spokesperson said “the vast majority of roles across R&D are unchanged” and dubbed the changes “a continual build” on the company's overall strategy.

“Our No. 1 priority is to accelerate delivery of our pipeline—this is an area of investment for us, and the R&D budget continues to increase,” the spokesperson said, noting that the pharma invested more than 5 billion pounds sterling ($6.1 billion) in R&D last year. That number is up 40% since CEO Emma Walmsley took the reins in early 2017, according to GSK.  

Once she joined, Walmsley launched a company overhaul that included replacing 50 top managers—40% of GSK’s top management team—and vowed to renew a focus on addressing respiratory disorders, infectious disease, cancer and inflammatory disease.  

Editor's note: This article was updated Sept. 20 at 9:30 a.m. ET to clarify that GSK's HIV work is conducted through ViiV and not under its infectious disease and vaccines arm.