GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s research and development chief is set to step down from the role this year after the company splits in two, becoming chief executive of a Silicon Valley startup.
Hal Barron (picture) , an American scientist who’s overseen drug development efforts, will hand over the role of chief scientific officer to Glaxo scientist Tony Wood in August, the company said in a statement Wednesday. Barron will remain a non-executive director on the U.K. drugmaker’s board and support R&D, while taking up a new role as CEO of biotech firm Altos Labs, Glaxo said.
The move comes at a pivotal moment for Glaxo as the company prepares to spin-off its consumer business in mid-2022, with the possibility of a sale now on the table after it emerged Unilever Plc has made three bids for the unit in recent months. The company has faced pressure from activist fund Elliott Investment Management LP to improve its performance.
Barron, 59, was a key hire by Glaxo CEO Emma Walmsley soon after she took up the helm in 2017 and is highly regarded in scientific circles. A veteran of Genentech and Roche, Barron joined Glaxo from Calico, the anti-aging startup backed by Alphabet Inc., and has led the company’s efforts to rejuvenate its drugs pipeline in recent years.
One of Barron’s main goals at the company has been to double the success rate of drug discovery to 20% using genomic data and artificial intelligence. Under his leadership as CSO, Glaxo has entered into partnerships with companies such as genetic testing biotech 23andMe Inc.
Altos Labs is an anti-aging research company focused on the biology of cellular rejuvenation programming with the goal of reversing disease.
Wood, 56, joined Glaxo from Pfizer Inc. in 2017 and has been central to the development of a number of Glaxo’s biggest drugs, including the HIV treatment cabenuva and cancer drug jemperli. At Pfizer, Wood set up the group that went on to create its Covid-19 antiviral treatment and invented the HIV treatment maraviroc.
The company conducted a search process that included external candidates to succeed Barron. Barron will remain on Glaxo’s board and science committee for an initial period of three years.