- Gilead's head of oncology, Alessandro Riva, will step down at the end of the month to become CEO of a newly spun-out company from Indian drugmaker Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, leaving Gilead at a critical moment for the biotech's ambitions in cancer research.
- Riva joined Gilead in January 2017 after 12 years at Novartis, where he lead global oncology development. While at the Foster City, California-based drugmaker, Riva help to oversee Gilead's $12 billion buy of Kite Pharma and its CAR-T cell therapy Yescarta.
- Glenmark's spin-out, as yet unnamed, will be focused on oncology, immunology and pain. The new company's pipeline contains five clinical drugs, two of which are cancer bispecifics currently in Phase 1 testing.
Riva joins a growing list of high-profile executives who have departed Gilead over the past half-year, following exits by the company's (now former) CEO, board chairman, chief scientific officer and chief medical officer.
The biotech, which rose to new heights on the back of its hepatitis C and HIV drugs, is in the midst of a transition as it hunts for its next blockbuster therapy in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and in oncology.
Riva played a key role in the largest bet Gilead's made in a future outside of hepatitis and HIV: an $11.9 billion acquisition of Kite Pharma that gave the biotech a leading position in the CAR-T space. Yet sales of the main drug acquired in that deal, Yescarta (axicabtagene ciloleucel) have been slow to grow and many hurdles to uptake remain.
While Riva's exit could invite questions about Gilead's path forward in CAR-T , Wall Street analysts were quick to defend the company.
Jefferies analysts Michael Yee wrote in a note to investors the company had indicated Riva's departure was not connected with O'Day officially starting as CEO and did not signal any change in the company's oncology plans. Still, Yee acknowledged the news could further dampen investor confidence in the company's turnaround.
In its statement on the management change, Gilead made a point of reiterating its commitment to the space.
"We are well-positioned to grow, and I am confident in the ability of Gilead and Kite to advance our pipeline of novel therapeutics for people living with cancer," said John McHutchison, chief scientific officer and R&D head at Gilead, in a Mar. 5 statement.
Gilead has begun a search for Riva's successor.
Interestingly, Riva will take over a spin-out that's focused on bispecific cancer therapies, rather than cell-based CAR-T treatments. Bispecifics, which bind to two molecular targets rather than one, have attracted more attention this year as a potentially simpler competitor to CAR-T therapies like Yescarta.
Glenmark's new "innovation" company will develop three bispecific antibodies, including two in initial human testing. The spin-out also holds in its clinical pipeline a Phase 2 antibody for atopic dermatitis as well as two experimental drugs for pain.
Riva will take over as CEO of the company on April 2.