Glaxo's New Pharma Head Looks to Move Fast, Especially in Cancer

(Bloomberg) -- GlaxoSmithKline Plc, the U.K.’s biggest drugmaker, signaled it will look to speed development of an experimental cancer treatment as part of its ambition to expand in oncology just two years after selling its stable of tumor therapies.

A medicine targeting a protein called BCMA has shown a response rate in myeloma about double that of a rival product from Johnson & Johnson and Genmab A/S, said Luke Miels, the new president of the London-based company’s pharmaceutical unit.

Glaxo's New Pharma Head Looks to Move Fast, Especially in Cancer

Glaxo may be able to get the medicine to patients by 2020 after U.S. and European regulators pledged to expedite its review, Miels said Friday in an interview. The incidence of multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer that develops from cells in the bone marrow, is increasing as the population ages.

“We need to move this as fast as possible through the clinic,” Miels said. “If we can get this to the market in 2020, that would be great -- the question is can we go faster.”

Miels, lured away from rival AstraZeneca Plc earlier this year, was one of Chief Executive Emma Walmsley’s first new hires. Walmsley has pledged to deliver more blockbuster drugs, bringing Glaxo’s commercial team into discussions with the research and development group earlier in the process as part of an effort to improve returns on investment. 

New Hire

With Hal Barron -- a former Roche Holding AG executive -- set to take over as head of research and development next month, Glaxo will seek out openings in oncology to distinguish the company from the competition and combine its drugs with other treatments, Miels said.

Glaxo has been on the sidelines of the latest breakthroughs in immune oncology. In another sign of its shifting aspirations in cancer, the company said it hired Christine Roth, a former Novartis AG executive, as senior vice president and head of the oncology franchise. She is due to start later this month.

Glaxo two years ago sold its oncology drugs to Swiss rival Novartis for as much as $16 billion as part of a wider asset swap. It held on to its early-stage pipeline.

Move Faster

Walmsley earlier this year unveiled plans to narrow the company’s focus to treatments in respiratory and infectious diseases as well as HIV, cancer and immuno-inflammation disorders. The company at the same time moved to end or divest more than 30 drug-development programs.

“At an overall level we want to move things faster,” Miels said, “always with the caveat that you want to move things faster intelligently.”

“We have an ambition to be very active in cancer,” Miels said. “It’s very difficult to compete against a Roche today. We’re looking for targets off to the side, or that could be used in combination” with other drugs.

The experimental myeloma treatment, an intravenous infusion called GSK2857916, received breakthrough therapy designation from the Food and Drug Administration last month, meaning U.S. regulators will expedite its review. It has the potential to become a blockbuster, Axel Hoos, senior vice president for oncology research and development, said in an interview in September.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.