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GSK poaches key vaccine executive from Pfizer

GlaxoSmithKline has poached a key vaccine executive from Pfizer, as the UK drugmaker makes a big bet on the future of mRNA technology.

Philip Dormitzer will this week join GSK as global head of vaccines research and development, leaving the company where he played an important role in the development of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, including helping to forge the partnership with BioNTech.

He led the US drugmaker’s viral vaccines portfolio, including its work on an mRNA vaccine for influenza with BioNTech, and oversaw its vaccine candidate for respiratory syncytial virus, which will compete with a shot GSK is developing.

Hal Barron, GSK’s chief scientific officer, said he was “delighted” to welcome Dormitzer with his “significant experience” in mRNA and other technologies, saying the hiring was key to ensuring GSK remained a leader in vaccines.

“The importance of vaccines has never been clearer, and the pace of technological innovation has rarely been greater,” he said.

Pfizer said Dormitzer’s position will be filled internally from their “deep bench of experts in vaccine innovation”.

GSK has lagged behind in the race for a Covid jab. Instead of designing its own, it offered an “adjuvant” to boost the efficacy of a range of other vaccines, including one developed by French drugmaker Sanofi. But after a setback in an earlier trial, Sanofi and GSK still have not produced phase 3 results for their vaccine candidate.

The UK drugmaker is investing heavily in mRNA technology, including partnering German biotech CureVac on its second-generation Covid shot.

Dame Emma Walmsley, GSK’s chief executive, has faced questions about her lack of scientific expertise as she tries to revitalise the company’s drug pipeline. Activist investors Elliott Management and Bluebird Capital Partners have taken stakes to push for faster change at the group, ahead of the spin-off of its consumer health business planned for next year.

Dormitzer will help bolster GSK’s top scientific team and show the company is committed to innovating in vaccines. Several senior vaccine executives have left GSK this year to join smaller companies, including Amin Khan, who went to GreenLight Biosciences, Emmanuel Hanon, who joined Viome, and Amir Reichman, who now leads BiondVax Pharmaceuticals.

Roger Connor, president of global vaccines at GSK, told the Financial Times that the pandemic had helped prove the value of mRNA technology.

“We are investing significantly behind this, we have 200 scientists working on mRNA, and that doesn’t include the CureVac scientists, [and] we’re building mRNA vaccine manufacturing capacity,” he said.

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