NYU’s Leena Gandhi to Join Eli Lilly’s Immuno-Oncology Program


Eli Lilly and Company announced that Leena Gandhi will lead its immuno-oncology medical development program.

Gandhi is currently the director of Thoracic Medical Oncology and an associate professor of medicine at the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine. At Lilly, she will report to Kimberly Blackwell, vice president of Early Phase Development and Immuno-oncology.

Gandhi completed a fellowship at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute after graduating from the NYU School of Medicine. She worked at Dana-Farber in the Early Drug Development Center and in the Thoracic Oncology Program as Head of Clinical Trials until 2016. She then joined NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center as the director of Thoracic Medical Oncology. She was the lead investigator in clinical trials that helped develop PD-L1 as a biomarker of response to PD-1 inhibition in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). She was most recently lead investigator on Merck’s KEYNOTE-189 clinical trial, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in April 2018.

The trial was particularly notable because the results came out around the same time that Bristol-Myers Squibb announced positive data from its Phase III CheckMate 227 clinical trial of Opdivo (nivolumab) plus low-dose Yervoy (ipilimumab) in first-line advanced NSCLC with high tumor mutational burden. Company shares, however, dropped more than six percent at the news, because Merck’s Keytruda had a better result. The Opdivo and Yervoy combination cut the risk of death by 42 percent compared to chemotherapy alone, but Merck’s Keytruda decreased the risk of death by 51 percent when combined with chemotherapies, as opposed to chemotherapy alone.

So it’s a bit of a surprise that Gandhi, who played such a prominent role in Merck’s program, is making the jump to Eli Lilly.

Lilly’s immuno-oncology program has been in the shadow of Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck and Genentech. But in a recent first-quarter conference calls, Lilly’s head of R&D, Dan Skovronsky, indicated plans to bolster its immuno-oncology program. And the company’s oncology boss, Sue Mahony, during the conference call, said, “We mentioned we’ve on-boarded two physicians recently, one from Duke and the other from the Memorial Sloan Kettering and you will see us continuing to bring more external talent.” The Kettering arrival was Maura Dickler, the new vice president of late-stage oncology development. Kimberly Blackwell, brought on in December, was formerly a professor of medicine and assistant professor of radiation oncology at Duke University Medical Center.

There is quite a bit of movement in Lilly’s leadership. Dan Skovronsky replaced Jan Lundeberg as head of Lilly Research Labs in June. Blackwell is serving under Levi Garraway, who replaced Richard Gaynor at the beginning of 2017.

“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,” Blackwell 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 immune therapies. We are thrilled to have Dr. Gandhi join us at Lilly.”

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