Symonds confirmed as new GSK chairman amid CEO’s business rethink

GlaxoSmithKline has confirmed that it has hired Jonathan Symonds as chairman, confirming press speculation that the former Novartis and AstraZeneca finance chief was in the frame to replace the outgoing Sir Philip Hampton.

The company announced at the beginning of the year that Hampton would step down from the non-executive role after more than three and a half years.

Currently deputy group chairman of HSBC since April 2014, Symonds starts his new job on 1 September and has vast experience in the life sciences industry after holding roles as former chief financial officer at Novartis, and AstraZeneca.

He is also non-executive chairman of Proteus Digital Health, a non-executive director of Rubius Therapeutics and chairman of Genomics England Limited.

GSK’s board has approved the appointment following a thorough succession process undertaken by the company’s nominations committee led by Vindi Banga, the company’s senior independent director in which all non-executive directors participated.

While predecessor Hampton was instrumental in the appointment of Emma Walmsley as CEO in 2017, Symonds’ job will be to help oversee the changes the new leader is implementing.

Walmsley is trying to revamp the company’s R&D with leadership from chief scientific officer Hal Barron.

After selling most of its cancer drugs to Novartis a few years back, GSK is making a comeback in oncology following its $5.1 billion acquisition of Tesaro at the beginning of the year.

Over the weekend Barron gave a rare interview to the FT, outlining some of the changes he had already implemented.

He said he had already ended “consensus” decision-making in R&D, with a single person responsible for deciding whether to continue or drop each drug development programme.

According to Barron the former GSK culture had stifled innovation by focusing too much on safe bets rather than game-changing drugs that could lead to major commercial success.

Barron said: “We’re all human, so if what companies reward is the team that takes their molecule all the way, and penalises the teams that fail, then you can imagine that subtly influences people’s interpretation of data.”

Staff are also encouraged to take more risks in pursuit of blockbuster drugs, and aims to play catch-up in cancer immunotherapy, especially if three new oncology drugs produce positive data by the end of the year.

GSK has also struck up a consumer health joint venture that could eventually be spun off into a new company.

In second quarter results announced today group sales £7.8 billion, up +7%  on last year’s Q2 taking into account currency fluctuations, with pharmaceutical sales up 2% to £4.3 billion.

Vaccines sales were £1.6 billion, up 26% AER, and consumer healthcare revenues were £1.9 billion, up 5%.

Andy Smith, analyst at Edison Investment research said: “For at least the second quarter running, pharmaceutical sales were driven by the performance of the Shingrix vaccine in the US. Shingrix is indicated for the prevention of shingles in the growing population of seniors.”

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