GSK flags pharma M&A ambitions by poaching Roche deal-maker

LONDON (Reuters) - GlaxoSmithKline GSK.L signaled its intention to boost its drug pipeline through deals on Wednesday by hiring Kevin Sin from Roche's ROG.S Genentech unit to lead a worldwide search for promising experimental products.

FILE PHOTO: The GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) logo is seen on top of GSK Asia House in Singapore, March 21, 2018. Picture taken March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Loriene Perera/File Photo

He is the first senior hire by GSK’s new research and development (R&D) head Hal Barron, who joined Britain’s biggest pharmaceuticals company in January. Barron is also a veteran of Genentech, famous for its biotech cancer medicines.

Sin will join GSK in July, after leading Genentech’s oncology deal-making since 2010 and being involved in more than 100 transactions in multiple disease areas over his career.

He will play a pivotal role as GSK seeks to strengthen its medicine cabinet through both acquisitions and licensing deals.

As head of worldwide business development for pharma R&D, he will report to Barron and be based in San Francisco, one of the world’s biggest biotechnology hubs.

GSK Chief Executive Emma Walmsley has made strengthening the pipeline and improving returns in the core prescription drugs business her top priority since taking over in April last year.

The company, which has lagged behind rivals in recent years in producing multibillion-dollar blockbusters, largely sat out a spate of deal-making by rival drugmakers under previous CEO Andrew Witty.

Analysts say GSK remains financially constrained on the size of acquisitions it can do, after just spending $13 billion buying out consumer healthcare joint venture partner Novartis NOVN.S, but they see scope for it to do a series of bolt-on deals.

Head of pharmaceuticals Luke Miels - another newcomer who joined GSK in September - told Reuters at the end of 2017 that GSK would be scouting for promising pharma M&A opportunities, including in oncology.

Although GSK sold its established cancer medicines to Novartis three years ago, it retained some early-stage projects that it now believes have the potential to leapfrog rivals and be at the forefront of treatment.

Still, even with a renewed sense of urgency and a stepped-up pace of deals, GSK’s drug pipeline will not deliver its next batch of products before 2020.

Sin began his career as a scientist and has also worked as an attorney advising private and public biotech companies on business development. Barron said he would help GSK gain access to top science around the world and establish new collaborations with academia and industry.

Editing by Louise Heavens and Adrian Croft