GSK pharma boss Miels rejigs commercial operations to stoke new launches Trelegy, Shingrix

Trelegy Ellipta, a closed triple COPD therapy, is one of two all-important launches for GlaxoSmithKline this year. (GlaxoSmithKline)

GlaxoSmithKline's new CEO Emma Walmsley isn’t the only one shaking things up at the top of the British drugmaker.

Luke Miels, Walmsley’s pick to head the pharma division, is making waves too, Reuters reports. In January, he tasked his managers with finding budget savings of 20% to put toward key products and markets.

The challenge is part of a concerted effort to streamline the company's R&D and marketing to prioritize fewer, more lucrative new treatments. The company’s commercial arm will double down on launches such as first-of-its-kind triple respiratory therapy Trelegy and singles vaccine Shingrix in 10 major markets, including the U.S., select European countries, China and India, Miels told the news service.

"In R&D, we're trying to pick which assets are most productive and are going to add the most value to patients. Well, we need to do the same thing in the commercial organization," he said, adding that “that is something that will become more visible over time and it is a process that we are going through now ... the strategy is more advanced than is visible externally."

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The pipeline culling has been swift under Walmsley’s direction. In July, she told investors the company would nix or divest about 30 R&D programs to focus on its bread-and-butter areas of HIV and respiratory, as well as oncology and immuno-inflammation, two newer interests for the drugmaker.

But those pipeline investments will take time to pay off, and in the meantime, the job before Miels—a Pascal Soriot protégé whose poaching sparked a legal battle between GSK and AstraZeneca—is a hefty one. The pharma unit shoulders much of the top-line responsibility at GSK, which relies on vaccines and consumer health, two low-margin businesses, for the rest of its sales.

And thanks to HIV competition from Gilead and the potential for generics to finally hit asthma and COPD behemoth Advair, the business has its work cut out for it in 2018.