- Eli Lilly has recruited immunotherapy and thoracic oncology specialist Leena Gandhi to lead its immuno-oncology medical development team, as it attempts to make inroads into the therapeutic space.
- Gandhi is the director of Thoracic Medical Oncology at the New York University School of Medicine, and has worked on clinical trials of novel targeted therapies and immunotherapies in lung cancer, with a focus on evaluating potential biomarkers for response.
- She was the lead investigator on Merck & Co.'s Keytruda KEYNOTE-189 study, a pivotal study that the big pharma expects to differentiate Keytruda in the market.
Immuno-oncology is a highly competitive area, making the best people highly sought-after.
In analysis of LinkedIn profiles carried out by hiQ Labs, a technology services provider specializing in employee recruitment and retention, Bristol-Myers Squibb is a frequent target for companies "poaching" personnel, and Johnson & Johnson is the best at attracting young professionals in immuno-oncology.
Instead of pulling in a pharma professional, Lilly has chosen an experienced academic without specific industry experience. She has, however, in depth knowledge of competitor immunotherapies through her research, including working on Merck's Keytruda (pembrolizumab) KEYNOTE-189 study.
"Dr. Gandhi is highly regarded for her experience in thoracic oncology and immunotherapy, having worked in early drug development at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and now leading the thoracic medical oncology program at NYU," Kimberly Blackwell, VP of early phase development and immuno-oncology, said in a statement. "We know that her expertise and innovative thinking will lead to significant progress for patients facing cancer through the use of immunotherapies."
Lilly hasn't done as well in immuno-oncology as some of its near rivals, such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck and Roche. In mid-2017, the company announced plans to revamp its oncology R&D approach, including a focus on combinations. A deal with CureVac brought in immuno-oncology assets based on the German biotech’s messenger RNA technology. However, it has experienced setbacks in the lung cancer field, when Verzenio (abemaciclib) didn't improve overall survival compared with Roche's Tarceva (erlotinib) in non-small cell lung cancer. The recruitment of Gandhi could help the company sharpen its new focus.