Sanofi Poaches Top AstraZeneca PLC Scientist
March 29, 2016
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff


Paris-based Sanofi (SNY) announced today that it had appointed Yong-Jun Liu as Head of Research, Global Research and Development starting April 1. He will report to the company’s president of Global Research and Development, Elias Zerhouni.

Formerly the head of research at AstraZeneca (AZN)’s MedImmune (AZN), Liu is the most recent high-profile departure from the UK-based drug company. In June of 2015, Briggs Morrison, formerly AstraZeneca’s chief medical officer and head of late-stage development, left for the top spot at Waltham, Mass.-based Syndax Pharmaceuticals. Around the same time, James Ward-Lilley, vice president Respiratory, Inflammation & Autoimmunity at AstraZeneca, left to become chief executive officer and executive director of Chippenham, UK-based Vectura Group (VEC).

AstraZeneca has been showing quite a bit of strength in its immuno-oncology program. In February, the company announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted MEDI4736 (durvalumab) Breakthrough Therapy designation. This human monoclonal antibody targets programmed death ligand-1 (PD-L1) and is being evaluated for the treatment of PD-L1 positive inoperable or metastatic urothelial bladder cancer.

The same drug has also shown promise in a clinical trial for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), and is being tested in combination with other drugs, including with tremelimumab, an anti-CTLA-4 monoclonal antibody. It also is being tested in nine immuno-oncology trials, either underway or planned, in NSCLC. It is also being considered for trials in squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN) and gastric and pancreatic cancers.

Sanofi, on the other hand, has been restructuring and pushing into areas outside of its softening diabetes market. Recent rumors have suggested it may even move out of its Paris headquarters into the suburbs to save money. When Olivier Brandicourt took over the company last year, his new strategy focused on supporting the diabetes market, investing into other areas, and potentially spinning off its animal health unit, Merial, and its European generics business. Part of the plan involves slashing costs by $1.63 billion over the next five years.

Liu is a prolific author and researcher with more than 94,000 citations in Google Scholar and more than 250 articles published in peer-reviewed journals. He started his career in 1991 as a senior and eventually principal scientist at Schering-Plough’s Laboratory for Immunological Research. He eventually left to become principal staff scientist at the DNAX Research Institute in 2002, and a founding director of the Cancer Immunology Research Institute at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. There, he chaired the department of immunology. In 2011, Liu became vice president and chief scientific officer, and direct of the Baylor Institute for Immunology Research. He joined AstraZeneca in January 2014.

While at MedImmune, where his title was senior vice president, chief scientific officer and head of research, Liu was responsible for six research units, including Inflammation/Immunology, Oncology, Infectious Diseases, CVMD, Protein/Antibody Engineering, and Translational Medicine. He received his MD in internal medicine from Norman Bethune University of Medical Sciences and his PhD in immunology from the University of Birmingham UK.

“Yong-Jun will play a pivotal role in shaping a visionary R&D strategy for Sanofi and rejuvenating the company’s early-stage pipeline,” said Elias Zerhouni, in a statement. “His world-class experience in immunology, oncology and translational medicine will be vital assets as Sanofi sets its sights on scientific excellence and innovation across its therapeutic areas. I am delighted to welcome Young-Jun to the Sanofi family.”


Source: BioSpace