Lilly rejigs cancer R&D—and puts Loxo team in charge

Eli Lilly
A cancer R&D rejig comes four months after Lilly’s cancer research chief, Levi Garraway, M.D., Ph.D., departed the Big Pharma to become Roche's chief medical officer. (Eli Lilly)

Eli Lilly is revamping its cancer research unit, combining the oncology team at Lilly Research Laboratories with Loxo Oncology, the biotech it picked up for $8 billion in January—and putting a trio of Loxo execs at the helm. 

The new research organization, dubbed Loxo Oncology at Lilly, will be led by Josh Bilenker, M.D., Jacob Van Naarden and Nisha Nanda, Ph.D., who were the biotech’s CEO, chief operating officer and chief development officer, respectively. David Hyman, M.D., who leads the early drug development service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, will join the trio as chief medical officer in January. 

The move comes four months after Lilly’s cancer research chief, Levi Garraway, M.D., Ph.D., departed the Big Pharma for greener pastures. To fill the vacuum, the company put Bilenker in charge of its oncology research and early-phase development “in the interim.” 

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RELATED: Lilly's Garraway on his way to Roche as veteran Horning set to exit by year-end 

The new unit will take over discovery research, clinical development and regulatory affairs in oncology, handing programs over to Lilly’s Oncology Business Unit as they near U.S. regulatory approval. The oncology business team, headed by Anne White, will pick up clinical development, commercialization and medical affairs support, according to a statement. 

RELATED: ESMO: Lilly's RET drug shrinks more than half of rare thyroid cancers 

It will focus on advancing four programs: RET inhibitor selpercatinib and BTK inhibitor LOXO-305, both developed at Loxo, as well as a KRAS inhibitor and an estrogen receptor degrader developed at Lilly. The unit will look into building its pipeline by acquiring or licensing assets. 

RELATED: Eli Lilly grabs spotlight at J.P. Morgan with $8B Loxo Oncology buyout

"We will focus our efforts on biology insights with the greatest near-term potential for patients. We intend to curate a balanced pipeline of medicines—whether internally or externally discovered—to help even more people with cancer around the world and position Lilly as a premier oncology company,” said Lilly Chief Scientific Officer Daniel Skovronsky, M.D., Ph.D., in the statement. 

The overhaul means cutting loose some existing programs: “In connection with these changes, development of several early clinical-stage programs will be wound down and terminated,” Lilly said in the statement. The company will disclose more about these cuts in its fourth-quarter earnings call Jan. 30.

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