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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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April 6, 2011

Westphal Leaves GSK

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Posted by Derek

Hmmm. I see that Christopher Westphal is leaving GlaxoSmithKline, specifically departing his job at the company's venture-capital arm, SR One. He'd been in that position just about a year. InVivoBlog has a good roundup of what this means, and there are several layers to it.

For one thing, Westphal came in as part of the Sirtris deal, which has been the subject of all sorts of comment here and in many other places. We'll say for now that the deal was (a) not cheap and (b) is still in the "wait and see" stage as far as paying off, or even being a good idea in the first place. And he was involved in that bizarre buy-some-resveratrol business last year, at least until GSK brought down the hammer. So there's a lot of interesting history from that angle.

Then, when you look at it from the perspective of GSK's attempts to fund small companies, there are other things to think about. Running their venture arm seems to have been a real hot seat, as that InVivoBlog post demonstrates. Not much seems to have come out of all the time, money, and effort so far - you'd have to think that if you'd mapped out the coming accomplishments of SR One when it was founded, that the company wouldn't have been happy to see that future.

Westphal may well be leaving mainly to concentrate on his own venture fund. Or some other execs at GSK may be glad to see him go. Or GSK in general may be wondering what to do about SR One. . .or all three of these at once.

Comments (35) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets


1. Anonymous on April 6, 2011 8:55 AM writes...

So does anybody still WANT to work for GSK? Because it's approaching the comedic mismanagement of the movie Office Space (except this is just sad because it's real life).

I suppose the take home message is do what the execs do if they offer you a job: work there long enough to find a better position and then leave.

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2. Rick on April 6, 2011 9:41 AM writes...

Don't underestimate possibility c: Westphal's involvement with an internet marketing company hawking resveratrol as a dietary supplement while at the same time advancing it as a Sirtris/GSK drug for aging. That was, to say the least, embarrassing and ethically questionable. I would not be surprised to hear about further investigations into that matter sometime soon.

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3. barry on April 6, 2011 9:43 AM writes...

it's not just the rosy glow of faulty memory that makes the 80's look so good in Pharma. Back when they were concentrating on Research in-house, Big Pharma had better morale and was more productive. I remember a time when a drug candidate that hadn't bee invented in-house was stigmatized. Now it's news-worthy if a compound from Big Phara's own research labs gets through the Clinic.

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4. gyges on April 6, 2011 9:55 AM writes...

I wonder if a lot of big Pharma's woes can be traced back to patents. That is, if you get granted a patent you get complacent and take your foot off the accelerator; if you rely on secrecy/confidence then there's no room for complaceny.

Just a thought.

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5. SadButTrue on April 6, 2011 10:21 AM writes...

Westphal's departure will make little difference to the rest of us, just a pity we're not now reading about the departure of his boss! Arab dictators are tumbling across the Middle East but alas GSK will have to wait a little longer for its Spring Awakening. Meanwhile more rumors of cuts and the calling of sudden all-hands meetings for some groups looks ominous. Hard to see where all this will end, a lot of people are run off their feet and yet feel more insecure than ever. Hard to blame Westphal for leaving, he's probably been here long enough to see the writing on the wall!

P.S. Pls doo not send Derek's post to current GSKers using their work email and, if sending it to their private address, advise them to read it on their iPhone or to wait til the get home!

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6. here you go again on April 6, 2011 10:32 AM writes...

Well, Derek, it certainly didn't take you very long to jump on this one....another of your postings focussing on GSK. What is your facination with them? Did they reject you for a job a some time in your career, as you've moved from one place to another?

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7. It's back! on April 6, 2011 10:43 AM writes...

Hey the GSK HR troll is back, woohoo! Could you please tell us all again how wonderful Andrew and Moncef are? I love hearing how well respected and loved they are in the big, cuddly GSK-family :-)

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8. prognosticator on April 6, 2011 10:49 AM writes...

This whole sordid story is something that almost looks like a movie script. Except that it has been real, effecting many people for good (making money and fame) and bad (loss of jobs, careers, wasted investment funds, image of GSK)

SR-One was around for decades (yes decades) before Westphal. It has been a stopping off position for many people moving through career positions over the years, training session for some, a holding place for other, a way-station for for folks that GSK did not know what else to do with, often before they left (or were drive out) of the company. Westphal is no different, just more extreme in his self-importance about it all.

The timing of this departure is about right. Weshphal has gotten about all he can grab from GSK 1) the Sirtrus deal (but not done, more below) 2) Sr VP benefits for 3 years 3) GSK funding of Longwood Venture. While at the same time being directly or indirectly reponsible for the demise of many former long-career-minded persons within historical GSK depts (don't forget, dozens were fired to help pay the $720m to buy Sirtrus, as stated by Patrick V.) And, it still continues as this new "philosophy" has permeated through much or R&D, despite the total lack of new drugs that have been shown to come from the "all for Westphal" approach.

And yet, Westphal is not completely gone from GSK's sphere, staying on the board of Sirtrus (presumably to help protect his own image from tarnishing even more with this sinking boat), and with the head of R&D, Moncef Slaoui, on the advisory board of Longwood. And then there are other members of his close inner circle, who still have senior positions in GSK, such as the infamous Michelle Dipp. What a piece of work she can be, but who almost certainly will have to be leaving soon, always tying her great image of being successful to Westphal (what has she ever really done, or delivered, except to be confrontational?) Of course, I'd never suggest this to be incestuous, or motivated by any type of self-aggrandizement.

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9. Anonymous on April 6, 2011 10:55 AM writes...

here you go again, we can't all slob the GSK knob. Even if people wanted to, you've got it in your mouth up to the balls.

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10. Anonymous on April 6, 2011 10:58 AM writes...

here you go again, we can't all slob the GSK knob. Even if people wanted to you've got it in your mouth up to the balls

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11. Mark on April 6, 2011 11:04 AM writes...

#4: Gynges

I think past success definitively taints a big pharma's culture. Once you get to the top of the pack and keep raking in the dollars, you get sloppy. You start believing that you really have it all figured out. You get stale. Pfizer is the biggest example of that. I think Genentech is already on that track.


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12. Rick on April 6, 2011 11:26 AM writes...

Mark #11: I think you raised an unfortunate point about human nature. At the risk of putting too fine a point on it, it's important to stress that the "pack" they're atop is a monetary pack, NOT a discovery research productivity pack. Those atop the latter usually wind up bearing the boot prints of those at the top of the monetary pack. Having bought their portfolios from other companies due of their own discovery ineptitude, Pfizer and GSK attest to that. P&U, Burroughs Wellcome, SmithKline Beecham etc. etc. are no longer around to tell us how they actually did discover drugs. Person-millenia of drug discovery know-how wasted for a quick buck.

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13. Anonymous on April 6, 2011 11:35 AM writes...

Highly paid people making bad decisions. If big pharma cannot sort out good from bad, no wonder VC has up and left pharma.

Glad to see him go, a least some accountability left at GSK.

The turning point for pharma is when it turned its back on it's core or founding values. Much of America has done the same starting in the 80's. You can tell me if it's worked out or not.

A good example is Germany. While the rest of the world made a quick easy money. Germany remained true to it's core values and competencies. It still is a world leader in manufacturing and science.

As smart as some business people are, it is important that they grasp the business. Sure you can quickly improve profits, downsize, outsource, acquire. But you erode what made you great... killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.

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14. Mark on April 6, 2011 11:36 AM writes...

Rick #12:

Agree wholeheartedly. The long-time line of drug development leaves the company raking in revenues from discovery work done far in the past and often at a different company. The peak sales of Lipitor ($12B) occurred in 2008, 23 years after it was first synthesized at Parke Davis/Warner Lambert.

Basically the reward (profit) is completely disconnected from the work (R&D). So in the mid-2000s, when Pfizer's R&D machine was viewed with so much potential, in reality critics should have been looking 10-20 years in the past.

As has often been stated, this is kind of frightening since I don't think there is anyone who believes R&D is working right now, so what will the next 20 years look like?


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15. Hap on April 6, 2011 12:01 PM writes...

#6: Do you think you're improving GSK's image or tarnishing Dr. Lowe's by complaining about GSK coverage? I'm sure if you asked by email, he would tell you if he has any biases against them, so I don't know what complaining in public is getting you (other than comments about your sexual proclivities) or GSK (if you have to astroturf, well, that's not a good reflection of your company's rep).

Besides, when the person who runs the VC arm of your company (with a checkered history) while running his own and being mainly responsible for GSK dropping the better part of a billion dollars leaves, well, someone might find it significant. It's not anyone's federal budget plan, but in most circles, $720M (+ research expenses - probably up above $800M, now) is still a lot of money.

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16. here you go again on April 6, 2011 12:37 PM writes...

#7, #9,10, #15: Oh so much do enjoy all your assumptions and presumptions---entertaining in so many ways. Simply pointing out how Derek seems to post and comment so much on GSK related activities....nothing more. Why does he so seldom post comments on the various companies where he has been employed? If he is going to be a self-appointed industry spokesperson, why is he so partial? What's the harm in pointing out an apparent bias?

So many false for GSK, work in HR, am a spokesperson in defense of GSK, and the Sirtis mess, and people like Westphal who create image and self-importance on make believe, sham accomplishment. Nope. In fact, find it all apalling, a sad reflection on who gets attention, the setting of priorities in today's society, media, business world.

There is nothing wrong in pointing out Dr. Lowe's patterns on posting. Biased, unbalanced commentary is not that far from the topic at hand.
Point, counterpoint is needed in any debate....MSNBC vs FOX

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17. Hap on April 6, 2011 12:52 PM writes...

If it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, and s&*ts like a duck,'s probably a duck. Or maybe a goose. It's probably not a wolf or a sheep, though.

Doesn't an argument require points? Logic? Maybe a fact or two? You haven't got any of those. I guess the more accurate analogy would be to the evolution "debate".

I have to wonder whether GSK inspires rabid loyalty in its employees and stockholders, has a self-defeating PR department, or just inspires boring trolls. I can't tell.

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18. Anonymous on April 6, 2011 1:44 PM writes...

#16: This blog covers news about Pfizer, BMS, and any other company that has something interesting going on, both the good and the bad. You need to follow it more closely if you think that GSK is being singled out. If you think that news about other companies is being ommitted, post a link and I'm sure it will be commented on just as ardently as in this post. That being said, the whole Sirtris deal seems like a monumenal blunder, and it should not be surprising that people in the field would spend a lot of time talking about it and the aftermath.

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19. Hap on April 6, 2011 2:02 PM writes...

Bias isn't sufficient reason to ignore someone's commentary - it is a reason to look for facts they are leaving out (or facts that aren't facts, either by not being true or not being supported or supportable), logical connections that really aren't, overgeneralizations, or other problems with their argument. If those don't exist (or you can't find them), then the bias doesn't really matter, because the facts and logic speak well enough for themselves.

For your point to make sense, you'd have find items of similar importance that have been left out by Dr. Lowe, or reasons that the GSK problems either aren't real, aren't problems, or aren't important. Good luck with that.

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20. Cheerio on April 6, 2011 2:15 PM writes...

As for bias on this blog here's a simple Google string search using the following terms that give these counts:

"corante pipeline" pfizer = 65
"corante pipeline" gsk = 26 (same count is given "glaxosmithkline" as for "gsk")

Hardly scientific but it confirms my impression that pfizer have been the most discussed pharma company on this site. Rightly so too in my opinion considering how they've destroyed so many good companies and jobs.

Interestingly, it seems to me that GSK stories get more comments, probably a reflection on how many people they've dumped on in the past few years.

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21. MoMo on April 6, 2011 2:37 PM writes...

Maybe the Boston Globe can hire Westphal as a writer so he can tell the liberals in Massachusetts how well Pharma is doing and give them health care tips- like take resveratrol.

They deserve each other.

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22. petros on April 6, 2011 2:50 PM writes...

Talking of Germany how long did it take Westphal to tell GSK of his relocation to his ancestral homeland?

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23. Rick on April 6, 2011 3:51 PM writes...

MoMo, #21,
Boston Globe's been there, done that. They had Westphal writing OpEds a few months ago. Amateur drivel, mostly cut and pasted talking points from PhRMA and BIO. They dumped him after a few pieces. What's that tell ya'?

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24. Rick on April 6, 2011 3:56 PM writes...

@ MoMo, #21,
By the way I AM one of "the liberals in Massachusetts". Maybe we can have a beer and you can hear exactly what I and a bunch of my liberal Massachusetts friends think about how well pharma is doing.

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25. Hap on April 6, 2011 4:01 PM writes...

If you can see the flaming pyres of ships in the distance, you probably don't need the ASW folks to tell you how well the sub hunting is going.

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26. Anon on April 6, 2011 5:07 PM writes...

Perhaps Westphal had fulfilled his time commitment with GSK following the Sirtrus deal and is now free to leave for his next venture.

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27. coprolite on April 7, 2011 9:25 AM writes...

At the moment I opened this blog yesterday about 10 feet behind me were 3 people from SR One walking in to finish a term sheet. Small world. Rick and MoMo, I'm a Mass liberal too, we should all get a beer and talk about Wyeth.

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28. MoMo on April 7, 2011 10:48 AM writes...

Coprolite and Rick,

You name the place and time and I will be there! Boston, Cambridge, hell, even Waltham is fine with me.

It would be good to meet and you never know, we can put some ideas together and create the Perfect Pharma Company!

But don't pick on me- I am not a liberal or a conservative-I walk in both worlds.

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29. Rick on April 7, 2011 11:39 AM writes...

Meeting in the real world, analog style? Would this violate some code of the bloggoshpere? Whatever, I'm game.

There's this Irish pub on Moody Street in Waltham called Skellig. I could be there next Tuesday, 7:30 with a Guinness in front of me. Since I don't have to clean up, let's open it up to all participants in this forum in the vicinity.

I don't want to clog up Derek's turf or annoy uninterested parties with a side-bar, so send me an e-mail ( to confirm or suggest an alternative. You can call me Rick and I swear before all gathered here to guard your identities (true and otherwise) with my life.

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30. Anonymous on April 7, 2011 12:39 PM writes...

You have to admit.

That this guy sure can polish a turd.

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31. Dave_n on April 7, 2011 6:04 PM writes...

Well having been at SK&F in the halcyon days when we actually did something in discovery research (cimetidine; UK side; cefonicid; auranofin US side for examples), one can trace the demise of SK&F (and subsequent names) to the idea that academics can run pharmaceutical research groups much better than the current inhabitants. Examples; Rosenberg, $2B on "molecular biology" as the route to new antibiotics; number of antibiotics commercialized = zero. Poste and Crooke ($4-6B) new antitumor agents that will revolutionize cancer treatment. Score = 1 topotecan, and that concept was brought in with NCI money and synthesized by one of the then current chemists; not any significant involvement with molecular biology. Russell Grieg was a post-doc in Poste's group at that time and though bright, was not a bench researcher of any note. Just try looking for patent or publications in his name.

As a lot of people said even in the mid 80s, SK&F was a nice place to have been from with an excellent alumni association for the future.

Little did we realize how prescient we were with those remarks, though the current crop of ex-GSKers would not fit in with the older groups who were bench scientists, not managerial paper-pushers!

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32. Rick on April 8, 2011 4:39 AM writes...

#31: Lest we forget, in GSK's Shermanesque march through once-productive drug discovery programs lies Burroughs Wellcome - GSK's Atlanta, That great conquest included dispatching a research group that produced a Nobel laureate. No doubt this is a proud moment in the bloody march of business and finance through the land of scientific excellence.

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33. naive on April 8, 2011 3:02 PM writes...

And let's not forget Jan Leschly, former SKB CEO and co-schemer of the biggest pharma merger the world had ever seen up until 2000, who, upon cracking his champagne bottle across the bow of the S.S. GSKtanic, promptly left the company to join his son's web based biotech outfit (well, it was 2000 afterall) and was quoted as calling Big Pharma inherently too "inefficient" to be productive due to size!

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34. Anonymous on April 10, 2011 5:53 PM writes...

Turd boy!!

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35. Anonymous on April 12, 2011 8:27 PM writes...

GSK is scary, generating a brood of crap managers. They leave GSK and land in other pharma co's....on their feet ..of course!!! Roche is one example...heehee

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