Verona hires ex-GSK researchers for late-phase push in COPD

Verona Pharma has named long-time GlaxoSmithKline employee Nina Church as executive director of global clinical development. The appointment of Church is part of Verona’s efforts to prepare for phase 3 development of ensifentrine in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Church spent 15 years at GSK, rising to the rank of global operations director for COPD, before being affected by its retreat from R&D in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. The fallout from the cuts is still being felt—Church is part of a lawsuit accusing GSK of failing to pay severance benefits—but the positive for other companies was that a lot of respiratory R&D talent became available.

In the years following her departure, Church used her decades of experience developing drugs including Advair to land positions at Parexel—which took on displaced GSK staff—and most recently Parion Sciences.

Now, Verona has persuaded Church to swap life as executive director of clinical operations at Parion for a chance to play a starring role in its phase 3 development plans. Verona expects to post phase 2 data on a nebulized formulation of PDE3/PDE4 inhibitor ensifentrine around the end of the year, setting it up to potentially enter pivotal phase 3 trials in 2020. 

The appointment adds another strand to the long-standing connections between Verona and GSK. Ensifentrine, formerly known as RPL554, was co-invented by the late Glaxo R&D chief Sir David Jack.

Verona unveiled Church as its executive director of global clinical development alongside news of its appointment of Nancy Herje as senior director of clinical operations. Herje, another former GSK researcher, is joining Verona from Parexel subsidiary ExecuPharm.

The appointments continue the quick-fire pace of change at Verona’s R&D group. Verona began the year by naming ex-GSK researcher Kathleen Rickard as its chief medical officer, giving her oversight of late-phase ensifentrine development, and appointing Tara Rheault as vice president of R&D operations.

All four of the new appointments will work out of Verona’s U.S. offices, tipping the balance of the British company’s clinical development group across the Atlantic.