Pfizer hires Settleman from Calico to lead cancer R&D

Pfizer sign
Upon joining Pfizer at the start of next month, Jeff Settleman will report directly to Mikael Dolsten. (Tracy Staton)

Pfizer has hired Jeff Settleman to lead its oncology R&D group. Settleman, who joins from Calico Life Sciences, will lead all cancer programs from discovery to clinical proof of concept.

Today, those activities are overseen by Robert Abraham, who has led the group since 2011. But with Abraham retiring at the end of the year, Settleman is set to take over the responsibilities and become head of Pfizer’s 800-person oncology R&D site in La Jolla, California. 

The size of the R&D group is a step up from the one Settleman works with at Calico, a sister company of Google with big plans to treat age-related diseases. Settleman joined Calico in 2015 and has spent the past four years applying his knowledge of molecularly targeted cancer therapies and epigenetic mechanisms of drug resistance to its programs as head of oncology research.

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Settleman was one of a clutch of ex-Genentech employees, led by CEO Art Levinson, who found a home at Calico. At Roche’s Genentech, his first industry employer, Settleman worked as senior director of discovery oncology.

Pfizer hopes this experience will support its efforts to claim a growing slice of the cancer market.

“Settleman brings to Pfizer a breadth of experience in fundamental cancer biology, cancer genetics and innovative thinking related to the role of tumor heterogeneity in the development of drug tolerance and resistance. I look forward to seeing his expertise help Pfizer further accelerate potential breakthroughs for people living with cancer,” Pfizer Chief Scientific Officer Mikael Dolsten said in a statement.

Upon joining Pfizer at the start of next month, Settleman will report directly to Dolsten.

Settleman will inherit an organization that had some successes under Abraham. Since 2011, Pfizer has won approval for 10 new oncology drugs and established Ibrance and Xtandi as two of the best-selling cancer treatments. Yet, while sales of those drugs and other cancer medicines are growing quickly, the immuno-oncology boom has to a large extent passed Pfizer by, despite its efforts.

The team tasked with changing that has experienced some churn. Dim­it­ry Nuyten recently stepped down as Pfizer’s immuno-oncology clinical development lead to take up the chief medical officer post at Aduro. And oncology CMO Charles Hugh-Jones jumped ship last year, landing at Allergan.

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