GSK snares ex-Novartis, AstraZeneca CFO Symonds as chairman: reports

GlaxoSmithKline has found a navigator to help guide the expected split-up between its consumer health and pharma businesses—and he boasts a series of major deals on his résumé.

Jonathan Symonds, who once served as chief financial officer at fellow Big Pharma companies Novartis and AstraZeneca, is poised to lead GSK as chairman, the Financial Times reported. Symonds will replace Philip Hampton, who in January said he would step down.

Unlike his predecessor, Symonds is well familiar with the life sciences industry, and his background in hefty deals is the very kind of experience GSK needs right now: It's in the middle of creating a consumer health joint venture with Pfizer to prepare for a final spinoff.

Currently deputy group chairman of HSBC, Symonds served as Novartis’ CFO from 2009 to 2013. During that stint, he oversaw the Swiss drugmaker's Alcon acquisition. Even earlier, he helped ICI separate its chemicals and pharmaceuticals businesses—a deal that gave birth to Zeneca, which then merged with Swedish drugmaker Astra to form the AstraZeneca we know today.

During his 10-year tenure as AZ’s finance overseer, he was responsible for overall strategic planning and business development right to the point of the company $15 billion acquisition of MedImmune. After losing out to David Brennan in the CEO race, Symonds jumped ship to investment banking shop Goldman Sachs in 2007 before moving to Novartis two years later.

RELATED: GlaxoSmithKline Chairman Philip Hampton bows out as company preps for split-up

One person familiar with the matter reportedly told the FT it was that combination of experience in life sciences and capital markets that made Symonds a perfect fit for GSK.

In addition to those Big Pharma gigs, Symonds is also the chairman of Proteus Digital Health, known for digital medicine technology that yielded the first-ever FDA-approved digital pill, Abilify MyCite, a high-tech version of Otsuka Pharmaceutical’s schizophrenia drug.

He is also the chairman of U.K.’s public-private partnership Genomics England, which runs a huge human genome project. He is also nonexecutive director at Rubius Therapeutics, a 2017 Fierce 15 winner that’s developing red-cell therapeutics against a wide range of diseases.

Symonds’ new title could be announced this week, or later, pending approval from the U.K. banking regulator, the news service reported. In a statement sent to FiercePharma, GSK said the appointment of a new chairman will be announced “in due course.”

RELATED: GSK preps for Pfizer consumer health JV with £1B in product sell-offs: report

If Symonds finally takes up the GSK chairman role, he will also have a familiar face working on the executive team. Iain Mackay, who joined GSK this year and formally took over as CFO in April, was group finance director at HSBC. Symonds served as an independent nonexecutive director at the banking group since April 2014 until being appointed as deputy chairman in 2018.

Together, they will help Glaxo CEO Emma Walmsley integrate Pfizer’s consumer health business into a giant with 2017 sales of $12.7 billion—leaping ahead of rivals Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi and Bayer in the process—and then work out its separation from the core pharma and vaccines business within three years.