GlaxoSmithKline has announced that its chief executive Sir Andrew Witty is to retire in March next year, after having spent almost a decade at the helm of the drugs giant.

Sir Andrew's reign at GSK has seen fair share of lows, including the the corruption scandal in China, bribery charges in the US, and most recently a £37.6-million fine in the UK for a so-called pay-to-delay deal that allegedly hindered ‘true’ competition to its antidepressant Seroxat (paroxetine). 

On the plus side, during his tenure GSK also became the first pharma to stop paying doctors to speak on its behalf to audiences able to prescribe or influence prescribing, abolish sales targets linked with prescriptions, and complete a widely respected $20-billion asset swap with Novartis.

“I believe this will be the right time for a new leader to take over,” Sir Andrew noted. “In making this decision it has been important to me that the Board have the time to conduct a full and proper process and that we sustain the momentum of our current business performance, capitalising on the very significant progress we made last year to strengthen the Group. By doing so we will strongly position GSK to achieve the medium-term outlook set out to investors last year and deliver a return to core earnings growth in 2016.”

Philip Hampton, Chairman of the board, confirmed that GSK will now conduct a formal search for a successor and will consider both internal and external candidates for the role, “whilst also ensuring the Group remains focussed on execution of its strategy to drive growth and performance.”

Deutsche Bank analyst Richard Parkes said the move allows Witty “to step aside at a high point following the company’s expected return to double digit earnings growth in 2016,” and that he continues “to be confident the company will meet or exceed these near-term targets driven by delivery on acquisition synergies and strong performance of its HIV business,” reports the Guardian

Advair Diskus trial meets safety endpoint

Meanwhile, GSK also reported that its asthma therapy Advair Diskus achieved its primary endpoint in long acting beta2-agonist (LABA) safety study involving children aged four-11 years old.

The VESTRI (SAS115358) study compared Advair Diskus, a combination of the LABA, salmeterol, and the inhaled corticosteroid (ICS), fluticasone propionate (FP), to FP monotherapy, and found that it demonstrated non-inferiority on the risk of serious asthma-related events. 

VESTRI is the second study undertaken by GSK as a post-marketing requirement of the US Food and Drug Administration. The first study, AUSTRI, carried out with adolescent and adult patients with asthma, also demonstrated non-inferiority of FSC compared to FP. 

GSK was one of four manufacturers of LABA-containing products indicated for the treatment of asthma required to undertake equivalent studies designed to evaluate whether the addition of a LABA to an ICS increased the risk of an event in the composite endpoint of serious asthma-related events.