GSK Lures Pfizer’s Vaccines R&D Chief Away

02.12.2021 - Britain’s largest drugmaker, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has landed a major coup, luring Pfizer’s vaccines R&D chief away, as it tries to regain its position in the top tier of the vaccine league and build up its presence in the mRNA field. On Dec. 3, Philip Dormitzer, who had served as the US pharma giant’s chief scientific officer for RNA and viral vaccines since 2015, will say goodbye to New York and, figuratively, at least, hello to London.

As GSK’s global head of vaccines, Dormitzer, who will report to Hal Barron, the company‘s chief scientific officer and president R&D, will be based in the Boston, Massachusetts area, center of the US biotechnology universe. Pfizer said the 58-year-old scientist’s former position will be filled internally from the company’s “deep bench of experts in vaccine innovation.”

During his time at the New York drugs giant, the soon to be ex-Pfizer executive, who previously served as head of US vaccines research at Swiss drugmaker Novartis, is credited with establishing Pfizer’s presence in messenger RNA. In particular, he is said to have been instrumental in negotiating the link-up with Germany’s BioNTech on the Covid-19 vaccine now known as Comirnaty.

Along with the Covid project, Gormitzer led an earlier collaboration between Pfizer and BioNTech on an mRNA-based influenza vaccine as well as helping to develop a vaccine candidate for respiratory syncytial virus that as analysts noted will compete with a vaccine GSK is developing.

At Glaxo, which has tread softly in the vaccines field latterly, the US national who earned MD and PhD degrees at Stanford University in California, will find shoes of all sizes to fit into. The British drugmaker has shed several senior vaccine scientists over the past recent months and is seen as having a lot of catch-up work to do.

Without entering the Covid field directly, GSK has instead forged alliances with other European vaccine manufacturers. In one project, it is collaborating with French drugmaker Sanofii, providing an adjuvant to power that company’ shot, which is still stuck in Phase 3 trials after several setbacks. More recently, it entered a partnership with German biotech CureVac to develop a second-generation Covid vaccine.

Weighing in on the new hire, Roger Connor, president of global vaccines at GSK, told the UK newspaper Financial Times that the pandemic had helped prove the value of mRNA technology. The company is “investing significantly” in the field, he said, with 200 scientists deployed, not including the CureVac team. Without giving further details, he said GSK is also building mRNA vaccine manufacturing capacity.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist