There are only so many things you can do as a pharma R&D executive when you start to get a little grim about the mouth, or whenever you feel a drizzly November in your soul: you go to sea, jumping ship into young biotechs, or sail out into the new world of venture capitalism.
Many are lured by the siren call of “raw science” and being on the new wave of innovation, although many will face the prospect of being dashed onto the rocks (see: David Hung’s call to Axovant).
But it seems this time round, most R&D executives are sticking to the surety solid ground brings and are opting to largely stay within pharma (although some have still heard the biotechs' song).
These last few weeks alone we’ve seen major moves from: Sanofi, AstraZeneca, Roche, Gilead, Novartis, Amgen and GlaxoSmithKline, with a few also coming out of the FDA and into the "dark side," as many hope new faces and new ideas will bring a shakeup to old R&D practices.
Let’s begin with AstraZeneca and its biologics arms MedImmune, which have seen the most movement, just today announcing that Lisa Anson, head of the British pharma trade group the ABPI and formerly AZ’s U.K. president, has become the new CEO of struggling British cancer and fibrosis biotech Redx.
This was hot on the heels of a big move for the FDA’s Badrul Chowdhury, who recently made critical marks against Eli Lilly and Incyte's long-delayed baricitinib, who is now SVP for research and development at Medimmune, and head of its innovative medicine early development unit, which is focused on respiratory, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. This caps off a 21-year stint at the U.S. regulator.
AstraZeneca has form in turning to the FDA, as in the last year it also poached Sarah Pope Miksinski, former acting director of CDER’s office of new drug products, and Geoffrey Kim, director of the center’s division of oncology products.
Miksinski has served as AZ’s senior director for global regulatory affairs since February, while Kim was named vice president of oncology and head of oncology strategic collaborations last July.
But what the Lord giveth, He taketh away as troubled Immunomedics, which saw a potential $2 billion deal with Seattle Genetics scrapped last year, stole away AZ’s former SVP and head of immuno-oncology, global medicines development Robert Iannone, M.D., M.S.C.E. He is now head of R&D and CMO at the biotech, leaving behind his work on AZ’s flagship I-O drug Imfinzi (durvalumab).
Turning south to France, we also got news today that Sanofi’s longtime R&D lead Elias Zerhouni, M.D., will retire from the Big Pharma in June (he may still pop up somewhere else, but we’ll have to wait on that), having been at the company for nine years.
And he’s replaced by John C. Reed, M.D., Ph.D., formerly the head of Roche’s pharma research and early development (pRED) unit. He announced in early March he was leaving this position, which he had held for five years, for “personal reasons,” though turned up at Sanofi six weeks later. Roche promoted William Pao, M.D., Ph.D., who headed up oncology discovery and translational research at pRED, to the top job in Reed’s absence.
Sanofi also saw the departure this week of Philip Just Larsen, M.D., Ph.D., its former diabetes research chief and CSO for its Frankfurt hub, who went over to Germany’s Grünenthal as its new CSO.
Roche saw GlaxoSmithKline raid its R&D alumni cupboard again when, last week, it hired Kevin Sin, formerly at Roche’s major biologics arm Genentech, where he was VP and global head of oncology business development. GSK is hoping Sin in a similar role can help spur on its pipeline play as the British Big Pharma’s R&D metamorphosis continues.
This also comes around five months after another former Roche and Calico vet Hal Barron became the new CSO and research chief at GSK, in a coup for CEO Emma Walmsley. But 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 last month.
And GSK also lost at the start of the month David Rubenstein, M.D., Ph.D., who had been working at GSK’s dermatology subsidiary Stiefel, during which time he held the title of VP of dermatology, discovery and preclinical development. He moved to become skin disease specialist Dermavant Sciences’ new CSO, part of the "Vant" family of Roivant companies (and where he will hope to have a better time of it than Hung).
And again just last week, Novartis’ new CEO Vas Narasimhan, M.D., persuaded John Tsai, M.D., to fill the vacant CMO role (that was left open by his promotion to chief) at the Swiss major. Tsai comes from Amgen, where he was CMO for less than a year, with his career stretching back 18 years across the likes of Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb.
And finally there is Kite Pharma’s former CMO David Chang. On the heels of its buyout from Gilead last year, Chang announced at the start of the month that he would become CEO of Allogene Therapeutics, which started life three weeks ago with a massive $300 million series A round and 17 off-the-shelf CAR-T assets licensed from Pfizer.
Parent company Gilead also lost its clinical director of cancer research, Henry Adewoye, M.D., who moved over to Compugen, where he will serve as CMO. And Gilead also sees its long-serving Norbert Bischofberger step down from his post of EVP of R&D and CSO, as the Big Biotech promotes John McHutchison, M.D., to the top job.
With earning season with us for the next two weeks, don’t be surprised if a few more restless R&D executives look to jump ship; we’ll keep you posted.