GSK Oncology Chief Moves to Bayer

11.02.2022 - The pharma industry’s poaching season is on, though some say it’s never off, just taking a break. In the latest drugmaker-to-drugmaker side-swap, among the top news this week was that Bayer has hired away GlaxoSmithKline’s head of oncology therapy, Christine Roth, just as the UK pharma was seen to be reestablishing its position in cancer therapeutics.

Roth worked for GSK between 2010 and 2015 before moving to Novartis. Returning to the British drugmaker in 2017 as part of then-new CEO Emma Walmsley’s top management reshuffle, she became president and head of the company's global oncology therapy unit. Earlier stints included oncology roles at US pharma Bristol Myers Squibb.

Commenting on the new hire, Stefan Oelrich, president of Bayer's pharmaceuticals division, said Roth's experience and leadership capabilities will "lift us to the next level as we launch our late-stage oncology pipeline and further clinically develop leading innovations to serve patients with the highest unmet medical needs.”

When she reports for work as new head of the oncology strategic business unit at Bayer’s US base in Whippany, New Jersey, on Mar. 1, Roth will succeed Robert LaCaze, who recently left the company. Industry watchers said the new executive will have her work cut out for her, in particular building up the German group’s new prostate cancer treatment Nubeqa as a potential blockbuster – peak sales in the €1 billion range are being targeted – amid fierce competition.

Analysts noted that, historically, Bayer has not been a major force in oncology. Though it does have established drugs, they play second fiddle to its cardiovascular portfolio, led by the blockbuster blood thinner Xarelto, worth €3.5 billion in sales during the first three quarters of 2021. In contrast, the group’s two liver cancer drugs, Stivarga and Nexavar, posted combined revenues of only around €700 million in the nine-month period.

The androgen receptor inhibitor Nubeqa, approved by the FDA in mid-2019 for men with non-metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer, was not yet on Bayer’s list of 20 top-selling drugs as of Q3 2021, and US trade journal Fierce Pharma commented that the cancer treatment potentially faces an uphill fight against Pfizer and Astellas’ dominant Xtandi and J&J’s newer Erleada. However, it could face opportunities with a label expansion into metastatic disease.

In addition to Nubeqa, Bayer’s oncology portfolio encompasses the radiotherapeutic Xofigo for prostate cancer, which reports said may encounter formidable competition from a new Novartis drug awaiting FDA approval. In another move to strengthen its portfolio, Bayer recently acquired Noria Therapeutics and that company’s subsidiary PSMA Therapeutics, gaining control of two investigational radiotherapies in prostate cancer.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist