GSK cancer head Hoos exits, takes top role at biotech Scorpion

GlaxoSmithKline’s head of oncology Axel Hoos has resigned from the company, and will take up a new role as chief executive of US biotech Scorpion Therapeutics. 

Hoos is leaving GSK after nine years, a period that saw a complete revamp of the unit including the wholesale divestment of cancer drugs to Novartis in a $16 billion deal announced in 2014 – which completed as he took over the division.

He is credited with rebuilding GSK’s oncology division since then, focusing in particular on in-house R&D projects which notably included the first BCMA-targeting multiple myeloma therapy – Blenrep (belantamab mafodotin) – which launched last year.

Hoos was also involved in the integration process that followed GSK’s $5.1 billion acquisition of Tesaro, which added PARP inhibitor Zejula (niraparib) and a pipeline of other oncology candidates.

He is also heading for the exit as GSK’s top management has just laid out its strategy for the next 10 years – with oncology a key part of its growth plans – and as the company’s board is fending off a rebellion by activist investor Elliott Management.

According to Scorpion, Hoos rebuilt GSK’s cancer interests “across all therapeutic modalities in the focus areas of immuno-oncology, synthetic lethality, tumour cell targeting, epigenetics, as well as cell and gene therapy”, and also worked on the development of Bristol-Myers Squibb’s immuno-oncology drug Yervoy (ipilimumab).

The new role at Scorpion puts Hoos in a very different role at the helm of a tiny biotech company that has put together a drug discovery platform based on medicinal and computational chemistry, combined with chemical proteomics, to try to find medicines for cancer targets hitherto considered “undruggable”.

Calling itself a specialist in “precision medicine 2.0”, Scorpion arrived on the biotech scene last year with a $102 million first-round financing that was followed swiftly by a $162 million round. That leaves it well funded to pursue development of its projects – so far are all at the discovery or preclinical stage but with plans to enter the clinic in 2022.

Details are scant at the moment, but the company says it is working on the development of drugs targeting oncogenes present in cancer cells that can reach primary and metastatic tumours, as well as compounds for a set of non-enzymatic, undruggable targets.

It is also focusing on discovering new targets based on “vulnerabilities in cancer cells that are critical to their survival but never appear in healthy tissue”.

“I look forward to building a leading next-generation oncology company, with the goal of delivering best- and first-in-class medicines to many cancer patients,” said Hoos.

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