Wednesday, January 04, 2012

GSK's Witty Knighted For Services To UK Economy

With the New Year in the UK comes the Honours List, recognizing outstanding achievements and service across the country. Amid a flurry of awards and medal ceremonies -- including In Vivo Blog's own highly-esteemed Deals of the Year Awards -- (voting time is now down to only a few hours, so please cast if you haven't already), joining the Honours List bestows individuals with a certain cachet that few other accolades can provide.

Henceforth, then, we'll be requesting interviews with Sir Andrew, aka GSK chief Andrew Witty, upon whom the Queen bestowed a knighthood for services to the UK economy as well as services to the pharmaceutical industry. Smith & Nephew's chairman John Buchanan also became a 'Sir', and, not forgetting R&D, Her Maj. bestowed awards on a couple of well-known biotech researchers.

Cynics may be suspicious of the timing of this flurry of biopharma-focused decorations. They came only a couple of weeks after the UK government outlined its new Life Sciences Strategy, in which much hope was placed on the sector helping to pull the UK economy out of the doldrums. Surely, though, courting the sector with awards doesn't spell a lack of confidence in the success of the goverment's apparently more solid set of support programs?

Either way, no one wants the UK to have to swallow another Pfizer Sandwich (aka the huge R&D facility that was shut down in Kent).

Sir Andrew's distinction, although fine, probably underlines the hours spent in UK Prime Minister David Cameron's Business Advisory Group. (Ouch. We don't mean that.) Sir Andrew also has a European string to his bow, as the current president of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), but obviously Cameron didn't hold that against him.

Still, Sir Andrew's award may have a bitter tang to some of those R&D chiefs that may have seen their Drug Performance Units culled as part of GSK's high-profile three-year review cycle (results expected to be made public in February).

The timing of Sir John's award came just prior to the latest in series of acquisitions and divestments that he has overseen since 2006 at the artificial hip and knee maker. Smith & Nephew on Jan. 4 announced it was spinning off its biologics business into a US-based JV with private equity firm Essex Woodlands.

Other knights of 2012: obesity expert Prof. Steve Bloom of Imperial College London, who co-founded the UK biotech Thiakis Ltd in 2004, to research the therapeutic potential of gut peptide hormones in controlling appetite. Thiakis was acquired by Wyeth (now Pfizer) in 2008. Prof. Mark Pepys, formerly of University College London, also becomes a Sir. He co-founded Pentraxin Therapeutics, a UCL-spin out with a focus on the rare disease, amyloidosis. Pentraxin entered into a research collaboration with GSK in 2009.

Order of the British Empire Awards (OBEs) were awarded to Richard Barker, who retired as director general of the UK trade association, the ABPI, in the middle of 2011, and Dr John Stageman, currently vice-president of UK science affairs at AstraZeneca. Stageman was closely involved in developing AZ's biotech strategy, including the acquisition of Cambridge Antibody Technology and the US company, MedImmune Inc.

image courtesy of flickrer sincerelyhiten

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