Thursday, September 11, 2008

New CMO Means Business For GSK

No new CEO in our industry has done more to shake up his organization than GlaxoSmithKline's Andrew Witty (except perhaps Severin Schwan of Roche with his bid for Genentech--but that's another story).

Earlier this spring he created high level positions devoted to corporate strategy and emerging markets and the formation of a new $500 million corporate venture fund. Just days after rumors concerning also-ran Chris Viehbacher's departure were confirmed comes news that Witty's lured Ellen Strahlman, MD, away from Pfizer, where she served as VP Licensing and Worldwide Business Development, to the role as GSK's chief medical officer.

As the press release announcing Strahlman's appointment helpfully points out:

"the Chief Medical Officer is the most senior physician leader of the company with primary responsibility for matters of patient safety, general medical governance, ethics and integrity, medical information, and investigation involving human subjects relating to any GSK products in development or on the market."

Which is what makes Strahlman's appointment so interesting. Yes, she's a well respected physician--an ophthalmologist by training. And since she once served as CMO and Global Head of R&D for Bausch and Lomb, so she's no stranger to the duties a CMO title brings with it. But her most recent stint at Pfizer, where she was at least partly responsible for spin-outs and outlicensing, means she comes with a business focus that's atypical of most of the industry's CMOs.

And Strahlman's background is by no means unique in the boardroom at GSK. When you look at who occupies the top spots at this pharma, a number of them have deep biz dev experience. Among them: Russell Greig, head of the new GSK Venture Fund, who was GSK's senior VP of world-wide business development before becoming president of Pharmaceuticals, International; David Redfern, the company's new strategy guru, who has held stints at GSK as SVP Corporate Strategy and Development and SVP of Northern Europe; and Moncef Slaoui, who was SVP world-wide business development for GSK before becoming chairman of the R&D program.

And that leads this IN VIVO Blogger to wonder...With so many top brass at GSK--including now the CMO--trained to look for products outside GSK's own pharm system, what's the importance of internal R&D to GSK?

It's a fair question. GSK has never shied from inking big deals to fill its late stage pipeline drought. In recent months that's meant tie-ups with Valeant for their Phase III anticonvulsant, Actelion for their Phase III insomnia drug, and Cellzome for their Kinobead technology and kinase inhibitor discovery/early development. And in attempt to spur innovation within GSK's walls, Witty announced in July a reorganization of the CEDDs into discovery performance units that will compete for internal financial resources much the way biotech start-ups vie for VC funding.

“Externalising R&D enables GSK to capture scientific diversity and balance expenditure and risk in drug development. In the future, we believe that up to 50% of GSK’s drug discovery could be sourced from outside the company,” Witty said in a press release announcing the new strategic priorities.

No one is suggesting that Witty wants to jettison GSK's internal R&D--at least for now. But the structural changes that have already been announced and this most recent appointment of Strahlman to CMO suggest that more and more business as usual at GSK will also come with an external focus.

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