How does GSK's incoming chief view the Advair generic threat? Stay tuned this week

Emma Walmsley
Emma Walmsley, previously the head of GSK's consumer health unit, will take over the company's CEO spot on April 1.

GlaxoSmithKline CEO Andrew Witty has repeatedly played down the threat of generic competition to the company’s top-seller, Advair. But how does incoming chief Emma Walmsley see the matter? Investors will get a clue this week.

The company is set to roll out its 2017 guidance Wednesday, and while Walmsley won’t be on the earnings call, she’s played a large role in crafting those benchmarks, Reuters reports. Mylan, whose generic candidate has the earliest FDA decision date, should hear back on its prospect by Mar. 28, just a few days before Walmsley officially takes the reins from Witty.

Witty, of course, has already made his views on the subject abundantly clear. For one, there’s no guaranteeing knockoffs of the asthma and COPD behemoth—which has been foiling copycats for years—will win the FDA’s favor on the first go-around, he figures. Even if they do, payer pressure on GSK’s top-seller has already mimicked the sales erosion typically seen with generics. That should make for an atypical generics trajectory, he argues. 

"I will therefore spend my entire career as CEO of GSK saying the same thing, which is that the genericization of Advair is not going to be normal,” he told investors on last year's Q2 conference call.

Even if Walmsley views the threat similarly, however, she’ll have plenty of other challenges to contend with after she moves into the company’s top job. She’ll need to make sure Glaxo’s new respiratory products continue to grow into the gap Advair leaves, whatever its size. And she’ll have to make numerous pipeline decisions, which means figuring out which products have the best shots at approvals—and the best shots at bolstering the company’s pharma unit.

Walmsley is “taking the time during the transition to really understand the business, and obviously she’s spending most of her time on the pharma side, … particularly R&D,” GSK chief strategy officer David Redfern told FiercePharma in an interview during the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.

But “we have a lot of science” outside of the company’s anchor respiratory and HIV businesses—including cardiovascular and gene therapy programs, he noted—“so what choices we make and when over the next few years is a big question.”

Walmsley won’t be on her own when it comes to making those decisions, though. She recently added AstraZeneca vet Luke Miels to the team as global pharma president, and R&D head Patrick Vallance will make up the trifecta.

"She and Luke and Patrick are going to be opening the envelopes together, making the choices and then living with them,” Witty recently told Reuters. “You'll have a team that is accountable right from the get-go.”