Ian TomlinsonFollowing a media rush on deals in the biopharmaceutical sector over the last couple of weeks, Dr Ian Tomlinson, Senior Vice President of Biopharm R&D and Worldwide Business Development at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), sheds light on the strategy and impacts of their deal with Novartis.

It’s been big news at GSK lately, and big news amongst our industry peers as well. Different kinds of deals have been announced (Novartis/GSK) and proposed (Pfizer/AstraZeneca) over a busy late-April. Industry watchers in the UK may be particularly interested in the recent events, given that GSK and AZ are British-based.

Whilst I can’t get into details of the Novartis discussions beyond what has been shared publicly I can say what GSK and Novartis have announced is completely aligned with GSK’s strategy – that innovative deals and partnerships are an important way bring value to patients and shareholders. The Novartis deal underlines our intention to do this on any scale.

When we rebuilt the R&D model in GSK back in 2008 our strategy was to become more externally facing. We’d been quite introverted as a business in previous decades and recognised there were lots of different ways to develop and deliver medicines for patients other than trying to do it all ourselves. Over the past six years we have entered into all manner of agreements and arrangements with academia, biotech and industry peers to discover, develop and commercialise medicines. In 2013 we secured approvals for five new medicines with a sixth early in 2014: this productivity is unprecedented anywhere in the industry – and of these six approvals, five are the result of partnerships.

We now have around 40 new molecular entities (NMEs) in phase II or III clinical development. These are not all GSK born and bred – they are a patchwork of assets brought into the pipeline from a variety of sources, sitting alongside those discovered in-house. It’s not an approach we are ready to change – compound in-licensing, collaborating and partnering are all here to stay and we are always ready to talk to any team that has an exciting proposal for us.

What is perhaps different about the Novartis announcement is that part of the portfolio will be relinquished, which is new for us – ViiV, our HIV Healthcare company, jointly founded with Pfizer, being the closest to a big pharma link-up to date – but this is the first time we have embarked on a three way inter-conditional deal where we “swap” parts of our business. The spirit of the deal is nevertheless the same which is to get the best infrastructure and expertise in place to maximise the benefits to all our stakeholders. Our marketed oncology products would be in great hands and we would be able to strengthen our vaccines business. Both outputs are great for patients and great for shareholders.

Finally, let me touch on one of the other key strands of our strategy, laid out in 2008, and allay any concern that this marks the end of GSK’s interest in oncology. Six years ago, after a deep and broad review of the business environment, the pressures on the industry, and the emerging science, we committed to focusing our efforts where that science was ripe for investment. It made absolute sense to stop funding unproductive research and to divert money to new and more promising areas. We reconfigured our therapy areas, refocused neurosciences, metabolic and cardiovascular efforts for example, and set about allocating R&D budget proportionally according to whether we could see the path to new medicines. Oncology is an area where we saw huge potential and increased our investment.

The GSK-Novartis transaction is expected to complete during the first half of 2015 subject to approvals and will primarily impact our marketed product portfolio and not our research in oncology. Oncology is and remains a key therapy area for us and our early-stage research continues unabated. We will feed the pipeline in the way we always have under the new model, and our existing strategy applies: all our partnerships will continue intact and new partnerships in oncology and other areas of R&D are as welcome as ever.