On the hunt for R&D deals, GlaxoSmithKline raids Roche’s executive cupboard again

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Emma Walmsley is looking to shake up GSK's R&D, and she's using Roche vets to help .(GlaxoSmithKline)

Emma Walmsley continues her R&D metamorphosis at GlaxoSmithKline with another new big new hire in the guise of Kevin Sin, an ex-Genentech executive who will be seeking out new pipeline plays for the U.K.’s largest drugmaker.

Sin will become SVP and head of worldwide business development for pharmaceuticals R&D. Translation: Sin will be on the hunt for pipeline deals, or, as GSK puts it: “[He] will play a critical role in strengthening GSK’s pharmaceutical pipeline and identifying enabling technologies to enhance delivery of innovative new medicines for patients.”

He’ll join in July after leaving Roche’s major biologics arm Genentech, where he is VP and global head of oncology business development, responsible for partnering, acquisition and licensing activities for novel oncology therapeutics. He’ll be based in San Francisco.

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Sin said, “I am thrilled to be joining GSK at such an exciting time and important stage of the company’s growth. The incredible pace of scientific and technical innovation that is happening around the world is significant and presents an abundance of opportunities to combine GSK’s strengths and capabilities with that of others to pursue big ideas in science and medicine.

“I look forward to working with the team to explore collaborations that can accelerate the discovery and development of new medicines with the potential to significantly improve human health.”

Last year, Walmsley came into GlaxoSmithKline with a mission to change up its R&D, and she’s wasted little time in looking to enliven a largely stagnant pipeline.

Little is yet to change on the money side, GSK’s R&D budget last year was £3.86 billion ($5.42 billion), a little down from 2016, but she has been busy on making some big changes, sweeping out programs here and buying up other programs there. Early on in her tenure, Walmsley said she was scrapping more than 30 drug development programs.

The major cull of pipeline prospects has seen GSK focus 80% of its R&D budget on the top candidates in four therapeutic areas, all the while also exiting rare disease programs it had in the past made so much of in the press.

Other aspects of the revised strategy include a focus on improving connections between the R&D and commercial teams and “governance around pipeline decision-making.” The focus appears to acknowledge previous weaknesses in how GSK has made pipeline decisions and transitioned drugs from the clinic to the market.

Walmsley unveiled the overhaul of GSK’s R&D priorities at the end of her first full quarter as CEO last year and is focusing GSK’s attention on two therapeutic areas in which it already has a sizable presence—respiratory and HIV/infectious diseases—and two in which it aspires to grow—oncology and immuno-inflammation, areas where Sin may be put to work to boost.  

This spending will lead to a series of data drops over the next few years that will dictate whether the chosen assets justify GSK’s faith in them. GSK also plans to spend cash to bring early-stage assets discovered elsewhere into its pipeline to boost its prospects in its four priority areas.

RELATED: Roche, Calico vet Hal Barron takes GSK R&D hot seat, as Vallance out

Alongside Sin, there have already been some big-name management changes: Last November, another former Roche and Calico vet Hal Barron became the new CSO and research chief at GlaxoSmithKline in a coup for Walmsley. Sin will now report to Barron.

This saw no room at the inn for six-year research chief Patrick Vallance, who was out the door for a new role as a U.K. government science adviser, which began in March.

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