Glaxo Names Roche Veteran as Research Head

By Noemie Bisserbe and Jonathan D. Rockoff Features Dow Jones Newswires

GlaxoSmithKline PLC said it appointed Hal Barron as its next chief scientific officer, snagging one of the pharmaceutical industry's leading research luminaries to bolster its flagging drug pipeline.

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Dr. Barron made his name researching, and then managing research teams, at biotech trailblazer Genentech. Investors were impressed by the hire, sending shares up 1.45% in London trading.

He will replace Patrick Vallance, who is leaving Glaxo in March to take up a role as chief scientific advisor to the U.K. government. Since taking the reins at Glaxo in April, Chief Executive Emma Walmsley has promised to boost the company's research and development.

She has faced critical investors and analysts, who have said that the company has shifted emphasis from risky but high-growth prescription drugs over recent years, while pushing deeper into the slower-growing but stable vaccine and consumer-healthcare businesses. Ms. Walmsley took over as CEO after serving as head of consumer healthcare at Glaxo, raising questions about whether she had the interest in and experience to revive Glaxo's pharmaceuticals business.

Ms. Walmsley has narrowed the focus of Glaxo's research and said she would focus resources on the company's biggest opportunities. It now falls to Dr. Barron to help her determine what avenues might turn into blockbusters years from now.

It is the latest in a string of high-profile hires by Ms. Walmsley. In September, she brought aboard former AstraZeneca PLC executive Luke Miels as head of Glaxo's pharmaceuticals division. She also hired Karenann Terrell, previously Wal-Mart Stores Inc. chief information officer, as GSK's chief digital and technology officer.

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Dr. Barron's appointment "marks another in a list of strong hires" for Ms. Walmsley, wrote Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts in a note to clients.

Dr. Barron is coming from the research team at Calico, a pharmaceuticals venture backed by Google parent Alphabet Inc. A cardiologist by training, he landed as a researcher at Genentech, whose labs were celebrated for the discovery of a string of biotech drugs, including blockbuster cancer treatment Herceptin.

During a succession of management roles at Genentech, and at Roche Holding AG, which eventually bought it, Dr. Barron oversaw the development of breast-cancer therapy Kadcyla and skin-cancer drug Zelboraf.

More recently, he served as research chief at Calico's anti-aging drug start-up. There, he had reunited with former Genentech research chief Arthur Levinson, Calico's founder and chief executive.

Dr. Barron will remain based in San Francisco, not at Glaxo headquarters in London, the company said.

At Glaxo, Dr. Barron will need to turn around laboratories that have dealt with some notable disappointments, including Darapladib, a heart drug it hoped would become a multibillion-dollar blockbuster, and MAGE-A3, an experimental treatment for lung cancer.

Since taking over, Ms. Walmsley has axed more than 30 drug-research projects to focus on four key disease areas. The company plans to pour more investment into 16 drug candidates that it believes stand the best chance of becoming big sellers, while shelving 13 drug-development programs and around 20 early-stage research projects.

Write to Noemie Bisserbe at noemie.bisserbe@wsj.com and Jonathan D. Rockoff at Jonathan.Rockoff@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 08, 2017 13:52 ET (18:52 GMT)