More Glaxo 'musical execs' as Waterhouse tapped to replace ViiV Healthcare CEO

The exec exodus at GlaxoSmithKline is continuing—and so is the rise of women to the company’s top ranks.

Monday, the British pharma giant announced that Dominique Limet, head of HIV unit ViiV Healthcare, would step down at the end of March 2017—the same month the company will bid farewell to longtime CEO Andrew Witty. He’ll be replaced by Deborah Waterhouse, who currently serves as GSK’s SVP of primary care, and VP of U.S. primary care sales Cheryl MacDiarmid will step in for Waterouse.

The moves are part of a larger game of “musical execs” for Glaxo, which began with the Witty announcement in March. In September, the company announced that then consumer chief Emma Walmsley would take the company lead as Big Pharma’s first woman CEO, and it shortly thereafter named ex-Novartis consumer vet Brian McNamara as Walmsley’s successor. Meanwhile, vaccines chief Moncef Slaoui, a longtime Glaxo leader, is also set to hit the exit, with his departure slated for June 30.

It wasn’t all that long ago that ViiV’s fate was up in the air. In late 2014, the company floated the idea of a unit spinoff among its investors, but their responses—as well as standout performances from new meds Tivicay and Triumeq, at a time when the company’s respiratory contenders weren’t getting it done—convinced GSK to drop the idea.

Shareholders gave "very strong feedback that we should retain that business," Witty said last October, pointing out that, over the course of the deliberation period, expectations for the business grew "almost exponentially."

"We took the decision not to separate it because we believed we were the best owners," he said. "And I think we've been vindicated since."

Meanwhile, the job of keeping that momentum going will now fall to Waterhouse, who has worked in marketing, sales, and even R&D in her 20-year Glaxo career. While a rebounding respiratory lineup has helped take some of the companywide pressure off of ViiV, the division is still locked in a market share battle with HIV rival Gilead, and its plans to surge ahead depend on a high-stakes bet on two-drug regimens.