JPM: Glaxo's cancer unit, in commercial 'building mode,' gets choosy with M&A

Zejula
With a lot going on, it'll take a lot to turn heads at GSK toward another marketed med such as Zejula, which it picked up in its Tesaro buyout. (Tesaro)

SAN FRANCISCO—It was just about a year ago when GlaxoSmithKline sealed its deal for Tesaro, bringing on already-marketed PARP inhibitor Zejula. But don’t expect the company to spring for more commercial-stage oncology products anytime soon.

While “we are not excluding the opportunity” for products on the market, it “has to be a good fit for the situation”—and GSK is being particular about the situation it’s currently in, said Axel Hoos, the company’s SVP of Oncology R&D.

“It’s just a much different proposition. Buying a commercial product has a different price tag, it needs to fit into the overall strategy, and we need to be able to deliver on that quickly,” Hoos said. And considering that the oncology unit is already looking at three launches this year—for Zejula, its BCMA-targeting multiple myeloma candidate, and Tesaro PD-L1 inhibitor dostarlimab—“we have our hands full.”

“The more you add, the more you need to be able to deliver. We will always try to strike the balance between ‘what do we bring in’ and what can we actually deliver,” Hoos said.

RELATED: JPM: With Tesaro staff and expertise in the mix, GSK gears up for 3 oncology launches in 2020

GSK’s commercial organization in oncology is still a work in progress—or “in building mode,” as Hoos described it. The company was able to hang onto the majority of Tesaro’s 700-plus employees, who are distributed among sales and marketing, medical affairs and R&D. But it also brought on “a lot of people from the outside” to cover areas Tesaro didn’t, including the hematologic malignancy space that the BCMA drug will occupy.

“Significant inroads have been made bringing on board top talent” in commercial and medical affairs, Hoos said, adding, “we’ve been quite prolific.”

And that new-look commercial unit—led by Christine Roth, who worked with Hoos years ago on Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Yervoy—is more tightly linked with the R&D unit than ever before, Hoos noted.

“We’re basically joined at the hip. This is a 50-50 effort where commercial has the same focus like R&D. Historically, GSK has been more R&D-focused than commercial-focused. We’re trying to balance that for best performance, and so far, so good,” he said.

RELATED: GSK's anti-BCMA med shrinks tumors in 31% of advanced multiple myeloma patients

Meanwhile, what were Hoos and his colleagues looking for deal-wise at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference this week, if not another near-term moneymaker?

Ways to bolster its existing cancer portfolio in immuno-oncology, cell and gene therapy, epigenetics and synthetic lethality.

“We’re looking for supplements for those four areas to continue to accelerate portfolio build” and “make sure that compounds that we have can work together so they can be combinable and the pipeline moves faster toward clinical execution,” Hoos said.

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