Britain’s biggest drugs firm will re-enter the fight against cancer at a major US conference this week as part of new chief executive Emma Walmsley’s overhaul of the company.
GlaxoSmithKline sold its oncology drugs two years ago under her predecessor, Sir Andrew Witty.
Walmsley, who took over the reins in March, has decided to reinstate cancer treatments at the centre of her strategy to restore the company’s fortunes.
Strategy: Glaxo chief Emma Walmsley is focusing on ‘blockbuster’ drugs
At the American Society of Hematology’s annual meeting in Atlanta next weekend, Glaxo will unveil data for an early-stage cancer drug in its pipeline for the first time since she took charge.
The drug, which is targeting multiple myeloma – a type of bone marrow cancer for which there is currently no cure – was granted ‘breakthrough status’ by the US Food & Drug Administration last month, which will speed up trials.
It follows a similar endorsement by the European Medicines Agency in October.
The decision to fast-track the drug candidate was based on an early stage study which will be presented at the US conference.
Glaxo is still in the early stages of developing its pipeline of 11 cancer drugs and it will be years before patients receive the treatments.
A spokesman said: ‘We have some exciting, innovative early stage assets which have the potential to bring real value to GSK.’
Witty was criticised for selling Glaxo’s oncology drugs for £10 billion to Novartis as part of a swap deal under which the British company formed a consumer healthcare venture with its Swiss rival.
Critics described it as trading in cancer treatments for toothpaste.
Walmsley believes the best way forward for Glaxo is to move back to its scientific roots and to search for the ‘blockbuster’ drugs of the future.
She has dropped around 30 pharmaceutical development programmes to focus on backing what she believes will be the ‘real winners’. Established treatments for respiratory diseases and HIV will also remain a core focus.
Walmsley has also been on a hiring spree. Australian Luke Miels has been poached from rival AstraZeneca, which has been spending big on cancer drug development, to become head of pharma.
And veteran American Hal Barron, who oversaw the development of blockbuster cancer drugs at rival Roche, has been appointed chief scientific officer at Glaxo.