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AstraZeneca hires R&D executive to lead breast cancer research, $7B Daiichi drug pact

May 16, 2019
Life sciences

The R&D executive shake-up as AstraZeneca continues apace as it hires academic cancer researcher Dr. Sunil Verma to run its breast cancer work.

Formally, Dr. Verma becomes the U.K. Big Pharma’s VP and head of breast cancer strategy and global clinical leader in the R&D oncology.

In practical terms, Dr. Verma will lead the team for its $7 billion Daiichi partnered med trastuzumab deruxtecan (a.k.a DS-8201), an antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) with an FDA Breakthrough tag, as well as the strategy of AZ’s overall breast cancer portfolio. He will come on board this summer.

This comes amid departures, re-jiggs and new hires across its R&D and commercial units, which earlier this year saw it hire controversial scientist José Baselga to run a newly formed cancer-focused unit.

Baselga was the target of critical pieces from ProPublica and The New York Times last year, alleging he had been getting paid by pharma companies for work, but had not been disclosing it properly.

He had been physician-in-chief at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, but was forced out last fall over the allegations—something he later took full responsibility for, although this didn’t save his job.

At the same time, Mene Pangalos, who was previously responsible for the company’s Innovative Medicines and Early Development Biotech Unit, took the helm at another new unit, the Research and Development unit for BioPharmaceuticals, which focuses on research for CV, renal and metabolism and respiratory—most of its work outside cancer.

This came after the loss of Dr. Sean Bohen, its former CMO and EVP of global medicines development, which followed closely in the footsteps of Bahija Jallal, Ph.D., former head of its biologics arm MedImmune, now CEO of Immunocore, as well as portfolio strategy chief Mark Mallon.

Verma comes to AZ from leading the Department of Oncology at the Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary. He also served as the medical director, Tom Baker Cancer Centre, Alberta Health Services.

AZ will tap Verma’s expertise, seeing as he has been the lead investigator for the first ADC to be approved for breast cancer and solid tumours, and helped shape clinical trials in CDK4/6 inhibitors, I-O therapies.

Baselga said of Verma’s hiring: “AstraZeneca is delighted to welcome Dr. Verma, a proven leader in the development of innovative therapies in breast cancer, notably in the field of HER2-positive disease including antibody drug conjugates.

“His expertise will bring enormous value as we continue to develop trastuzumab deruxtecan, an ADC which we believe has the potential to become a transformative new medicine for patients with unmet need. Our ability to attract globally-recognized talent and further strengthen our industry-leading bench in oncology speaks to the strength of our science and our pipeline.”

By Ben Adams

Source: Fierce Biotech

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