Richard Gaynor retires from Lilly Oncology; Dana-Farber’s Garraway steps up

Dr. Richard Gaynor will leave his position as one of the top execs of Eli Lilly’s Oncology division at the start of next year as the company employs new blood to try to bolster its cancer R&D.

Dr. Gaynor, who is said by Lilly ($LLY) to be retiring completely, will be succeeded by Dr. Levi Garraway, who is described by the Big Pharma as “a world leader in the analysis of cancer genomics and resistance to targeted therapies.”

He’ll become SVP of global development and medical affairs for Lilly’s Oncology biz from Jan. 1 of next year.

Dr. Gaynor has been SVP of clinical development and medical affairs for Lilly Oncology since 2013, and at the division across several roles for nearly 15 years.

Dr. Garraway, meanwhile, will join Lilly from his current role as associate professor of medicine in the Department of Medical Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School.

Last year, Lilly and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute signed a multiyear collab to research new cancer meds, mainly on early-stage compounds.

Dr. Garraway, a founder of Foundation Medicine, a cancer genomics and diagnostics company, has also won the Paul Marks Prize for Cancer Research, and is the author of nearly 200 peer-reviewed scientific articles.

He will report to Sue Mahony, the president of Lilly Oncology. "We are pleased and honored to have Dr. Garraway join us at Lilly," Mahony said. "He has made a tremendous impact in his career and is recognized around the world as a leader in oncology.

"We know he will provide keen insight and expertise--and will continue to advance Lilly's work in developing innovative new medicines to truly make life better for people with cancer around the world."

Mahony also praised Dr. Gaynor for his “significant contributions” to the discovery and development of cancer medicines. "Richard is known for scientific rigor and deep expertise in drug development, coupled with a personal warmth and care for patients that is truly inspiring," she said. "He is leaving a remarkable legacy at Lilly through his impact on the pipeline, people and patients."

That legacy however is one not always marked by success, and its portfolio of cancer medicines is certainly not the envy of the industry, with Alimta (pemetrexed), as well as Erbitux (cetuximab) and Gemzar (gemcitabine) being the stalwarts of its portfolio.

These are, however, now aging meds, and Lilly has not been at the forefront of the I/O cancer class market, and although it is working on combo trials with Merck ($MRK) with its PD-1 drug Keytruda, as well as with AstraZeneca on its experimental PD-L1 durvalumab and Bristol-Myers ($BMY) with its Opdivo, it does not have a marketed checkpoint inhibitor of its own. Lilly also recently signed up to work with Immunocore's lead T cell receptor-based candidate IMCgp100, in combination with its kinase inhibitors galunisertib (LY2157299) and merestinib (LY2801653) in melanoma.

Lots of tie-ups, but it has not seen the approvals racking up in recent years; it has however promised to deliver more on an additional 14 new product launches through 2023.

This, the company hopes, will include its experimental sarcoma drug olaratumab, which in May was given an FDA priority review--although if approved will need to compete with Janssen’s ($JNJ) Yondelis (trabectedin), a chemotherapy-type drug for advanced, STS liposarcoma and leiomyosarcoma.

One of its biggest new cancer hopes lies with its CDK4/6 inhibitor abemaciclib, but again is some way behind rival Pfizer ($PFE), which has already seen its competing med Ibrance (palbociclib) approved by the FDA, with Novartis ($NVS) wrapping its pivotal study of the CDK4/6 drug LEE011 (ribociclib) early this year with the promising breast cancer data it was looking for. It will likely be third to market, although many investors still see a blockbuster promise for the drug.

Last year it saw the FDA approval of its squamous cell, non-small cell lung cancer drug Portrazza (necitumumab)--but in trials it only saw marginal survival gains, and is licensed in a small patient population.

One of its biggest and more recent setbacks in oncology came three years ago when in a late-stage study for ramucirumab the drug failed to hit its primary endpoint on progression-free survival among women with metastatic breast cancer. At the time, it was seen as one of the biggest potential new meds for the Big Pharma.

The antiangiogenic drug did eventually however gain approval under the name Cyramza, across a number of indications, including more recently as a second-line treatment in certain colorectal cancer patients, as well as U.S. licenses in gastric and non-small cell lung cancers. It made just over $380 million last year.

In 2013 the Indianapolis-based drug giant also slammed the brakes on development of kinase inhibitor enzastaurin, which failed to meet the main goal for boosting disease-free survival in a Phase III study of patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.