Gilead loses oncology leader Riva days into new CEO O'Day's stint

Gilead's oncology head is leaving the company to head up Glenmark's new R&D spinoff. (Gilead China)

Only a few days into the job, new Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day has a key commercial position to fill.

Late Tuesday, the big biotech said Alessandro Riva, M.D., its EVP of oncology, would leave the company. He’ll stay on through the end of the month, at which time he’ll take the helm of Glenmark Pharmaceuticals’ R&D spinoff as its CEO. Gilead, meanwhile, has already started hunting for his successor.

Riva’s time at Gilead was brief, but to hear the company tell it, it was impactful. After leaving his post as Novartis’ head of global oncology development in early 2017, Riva stepped in as the California drugmaker’s SVP of hematology and oncology. Later that year, Gilead put him in charge of the oncology business as EVP, where he oversaw the launch of Kite CAR-T drug Yescarta.

“During his tenure, he has been instrumental in expanding the company’s oncology programs, playing a critical role in the acquisition of Kite Pharma and guiding the strategy and development of Gilead’s broader oncology pipeline,” the company said of Riva in a statement.

RELATED: With Kite in the bag, Gilead boosts oncology chief Riva to the head table

Now, though, O’Day—who only just recently took the baton at Gilead—will have the chance to fill a crucial spot on the executive team with a hire of his choosing. And after years at cancer giant Roche, it’s likely he’s got a good idea of what to look for.

Gilead will be counting on whomever it brings on to help pump up cancer sales, much the way it’ll be counting on O’Day to do the same. With hepatitis C revenues continuing to suffer under declining demand and pricing pressures, the company is hoping oncology can kick things into gear and back up its HIV business.

RELATED: Gilead, looking for cancer sales, swipes Roche pharma chief Daniel O'Day for CEO post

The thing is, the team will have some work to do. After shelling out $11.9 billion on Kite, Gilead hasn’t yet managed to get Yescarta off the ground. Like competitor Kymriah from Novartis, the drug has struggled to get off the ground. Between the two drugs, the companies have hit reimbursement hurdles and production setbacks, keeping revenues far below what their makers would like to see.