Dr Tony Wood

Chief Scientific Officer

Tony Wood

Tony is Chief Scientific Officer at GSK. In this role, he is responsible for Research and Development activities across GSK’s portfolio and pipeline of vaccines and medicines. He leads a team focused on three R&D priorities – Execution, Technology and Culture – all central to developing an R&D approach focused on science of the immune system, human genetics and advanced technologies, notably building capabilities in functional genomics, artificial intelligence and machine learning in-house and through business partners.

Tony is one of the world’s pre-eminent medicinal chemists and has the rare distinction of inventing a licensed medicine, the HIV antiviral maraviroc (Celsentri/Selzentry) - the first mammalian host protein-targeted anti-HIV drug to reach the market. As a pioneer of structure-based drug design to overcome problems of resistance, he has striven to advance strategies in medicinal chemistry design, including ligand efficiency and lipophilic efficiency, structural-property relationships for toxicity, and the use of chemoinformatics to inform molecule and library design.

He is a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry. Tony has a BSc in chemistry and a PhD in organic synthesis from Newcastle University.

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There’s never been a time when science and technology have formed such a powerful union as they do now. We’re able to identify drug targets using genomics and AI/ML in a way that is unprecedented. We are also able to use more approaches than ever before to design new vaccines and medicines to address the root cause of disease.

  • Vision for the future – an interview with Tony on his priorities as GSK's Chief Scientific Officer
  • December 2023

    Tony Wood sitting

    GSK’s number one priority is to invest in our pipeline and accelerate delivery of new medicines and vaccines for patients, with a focus on three key therapy areas – Vaccines & Infectious diseases, including HIV; respiratory/immunology and oncology. We have 68 potential medicines and vaccines under development, including 17 in the final stages.

    Tony Wood has played a key role in revamping GSK’s R&D strategy and improving its success rate. Working as a scientist in Britain almost two decades ago, Wood discovered an HIV treatment that became one of the first examples of a genetically-based medicine.

    Today, GSK’s chief scientific officer sees possibilities that would have been unimaginable even a few years ago. A year into his role as head of R&D, Wood talked to us about his early years in northeast England, his efforts to boost productivity with a focus on human genetics, functional genomics and artificial intelligence and machine learning, and his strategy to capitalise on the latest advances in science and technology to benefit patients.

    Take us back to your childhood and tell us what ignited your interest in science and health?

    My parents left school at the age of 14. But they both recognised the importance of education. I was also guided by my uncle, who survived World War II flying as part of an RAF bomber crew and ultimately became a teacher and director of the local education authority. Fortunately, I was able to go to the best-performing school in the area. That’s where I began to love science and maths. So many people I grew up with in northeast England in the 1970s and 80s didn’t get those kinds of opportunities. They ended up heading into more traditional areas of employment, including steel and rail, industries that were struggling and beginning to decline. That left a strong impression on me, underscoring the significance of always progressing. I loved maths as a kid, but I’ve always liked to do the hardest thing, so in the end, I decided to try chemistry.

    After starting university, initially at Imperial College London, my father had multiple heart attacks, so I ended up heading back north to help my mother look after him. I got my degree, as well as my PhD, at Newcastle University. That experience helped me become independent and learn how to deal with pressure and press on.

    Later, I returned to Imperial College as a postdoctoral fellow, and soon found myself at a career crossroads. I had to decide whether to go into academia or move into the industry. I chose to head to Pfizer’s R&D site in southeast England, which felt a place where I could find the best balance of both.

    As a scientist in the UK almost two decades ago, you discovered an HIV medicine. What led to that breakthrough and why was it so significant?

    At the time, Pfizer’s operation in Kent was run by a scientist named Simon Campbell – now Professor Sir Simon Campbell. The urgency and desire to discover new medicines was palpable. Sir Simon used to read every scientific paper as soon as they landed in the library, then photocopy them and leave them on our desks. I vowed he would never do that to me before I’d read the papers. So I got in as early as possible to read everything first.

    Eventually, I was picked to lead the team of scientists researching medicines to treat or prevent infections. My predecessor was retiring, and before he left I remember him telling me I’d never discover anything in antivirals because it was so hard.

    I left that meeting thinking, 'No way.'

    While I was there, we discovered maraviroc, the HIV treatment and one of the first genetically-inspired medicines. The science was advancing, showing us that the HIV virus used CCR5 – which belongs to a protein class called chemokine receptors – as a key to enter and infect cells. So that gave us an interesting hypothesis. No one at the time had developed a drug targeting a chemokine receptor, and in Pfizer no one had delivered a clinical candidate successfully from high-throughput screening, at that time a new technology, where many small molecule compounds are screened at the same time to find a starting point for drug discovery.

    Maraviroc broke new ground in both ways, and we did it all within 10 years. The experience for me defined the art of the possible, and provided a blueprint of what the discovery of new medicines could be like in the future. It also filled me with hope, showing how our work could have a direct impact on patients’ lives.

    You joined GSK in 2017 and were brought on to play a critical role in reshaping R&D. What was that like and how would you assess the progress so far?

    After 25 years at Pfizer, and the last seven years in Boston, I was growing curious about other opportunities. The spark came when I got a call from Sir Patrick Vallance, then GSK’s head of R&D. We got on really well, and I thought, 'If I don’t do this now, I’m never going to do it.' Then, an hour-long conversation with Emma Walmsley convinced me that she was going to drive significant change at GSK, and I wanted to be part of it. Soon I was on my way back to the UK to lead the R&D organisation’s science and technology platforms.

    Hal Barron (Patrick’s successor) and I arrived at about the same time, and we had the same passion. We began to build up GSK’s functional genomics, human genetics and AI and ML expertise, re-engineering our focus and paving the way for the technologies we have today.

    So the question is, 'How have we changed R&D productivity?' In 2023 we delivered over £11 billion in sales from novel products launched since 2017. That’s about a third of total sales. Looking at the number of launches and the cost per launch, we’re in the industry’s upper quartile. Our late-stage R&D success rates have improved, with our phase III success rate now above industry median. That’s a good start. Of course, there’s still work to do.

    Now that you are Chief Scientific Officer, what is your vision to build on that progress?

    When I moved into this role a year ago, I set three priorities.

    The first is to deliver value from the R&D portfolio. Flawless execution in the late-stage portfolio, acceleration of the early-stage portfolio and continued business development. It’s what I spend 80% of my time on currently.

    The second is to double down on technology to keep improving productivity.

    Third, we’re building an R&D culture in which talented scientists, engineers and physicians can thrive.

    Those principles will drive sustainable growth, benefiting patients as well as the company. When it comes to new recruits, we’re bringing in people with a strong combination of science and tech expertise. We’ve built a group of more than 150 AI and ML specialists. We’ve hired some of the best and brightest. We’re not unwrapping other people’s AI projects. We’re building our own. Those capabilities in-house will position us to capture the huge benefits we expect will flow in the coming years.

    What is my purpose? It’s accelerating our pursuit of novel medicines and vaccines to help patients in disease areas where there are few options – or in some cases no options. That will also deliver growth for shareholders.

    We now have 10 products generating more than £1 billion in annual sales. Our focus on functional genomics, human genetics and AI is allowing GSK to advance at unprecedented speed. We’re identifying targets four or five times more quickly than we have in the past thanks to advances in AI and ML. We have already brought together 300 billion data points in a single place to create what is probably the world’s largest model on the genetics of disease – an incredibly rich resource -- and we generate more data in one quarter than in our 300-year history to deepen our understanding of genetics.

    How do partnerships and deals fit into your R&D approach?

    Business development is integral to our R&D strategy. Our deals are underpinned by technology and aligned with our core therapeutic areas, allowing us to form relationships in which both sides benefit in a way that is more than simply financial.

    With our partner Wave Life Sciences, for example, we’re combining our expertise in human genetics with one of the most interesting second-generation oligonucleotide technologies. Oligonucleotides are short strands of genetic material that bind to RNA, essentially changing how a gene is expressed, and today they’re opening up opportunities to combat diseases that historically have been difficult, if not impossible, to treat.

    The MAPS technology we acquired along with Affinivax in 2022 also stands out. This unique approach aims to elicit a stronger immune response against multiple types of a particular bacteria, overcoming the complex chemistry of traditional vaccines that combine multiple antigens in a single shot.

    What do you see as the main obstacles you need to overcome to achieve that vision?

    I’ve always been interested in taking on the most difficult scientific problems. And boosting R&D productivity is clearly the big challenge today. Across the industry, around 90% of the assets in clinical drug development ultimately fail.

    Fortunately, I’m surrounded by the extraordinary team we’ve assembled. Not only are we benefiting from our own scientists’ deep disease and clinical expertise, we’re working with the best partners too. We’ve invested heavily in our late-stage pipeline to drive growth and we rigorously evaluate our early-stage portfolio to back the right programmes.

    We’ve also recently made some organisational changes to drive even greater focus across our key therapy areas and more fully embed advanced technologies into drug discovery and research so we can realise the huge potential of genetic data in complex biology.

    All this combines to put us in an excellent position to speed delivery of new medicines and vaccines for patients.

    What gives you optimism you will succeed?

    There’s a lot to be excited about. If you look at the different disease areas, immunology is a predominant underpinning biology, and there’s a huge opportunity for us to think about how the immune system impacts disease and to unlock the science to help patients.

    AI and ML are also accelerating the discovery of novel medicines and vaccines. Today, more than three quarters of our clinical development targets are backed by genetic evidence, and genetics, genomics and machine learning are giving us a much deeper understanding of the characteristics of a disease – and a better chance of getting measures to help identify the patients most likely to respond and benefit from a particular therapy. Those biomarkers to define the right patient populations can improve clinical success rates by up to five times. The more we can get at the underlying biology with biomarkers, the more likely those measures are going to be predictive. Remember all the way back in the maraviroc case. What really made the difference to our confidence was the mechanistic understanding of CCR5 biology.

    Novel technologies are converging in a way that I would have never dreamt possible when I started in this industry more than 30 years ago. We can use AI to analyse vast amounts of data to understand disease more deeply and disrupt the way we invent new medicines and vaccines.

    When you add the expertise and drive of our scientists and our laser focus on overcoming some of the biggest health challenges, we have all the ingredients that we need.

Tony's achievements


Shingles Science Image

Named Chief Scientific Officer of GSK. Leads a team focused on three R&D priorities – Execution, Technology and Culture – all central to developing an approach focused on the science of the immune system and the use of new platform and data technologies.

2017 – 2022

Lungs Science Image

Joined GSK as Senior Vice President, Medicinal Science and Technology, responsible for all science and technology platforms supporting the discovery, clinical development and delivery of new medicines across GSK. Pivotally involved in the launch of new medicines including Nucala, Blenrep, Jemperli, Cabenuva and Xevudy.


Data Vis 1

Elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences

1992 – 2017

HIV Science Image


Led large-scale global organisations in drug discovery and development in multiple therapeutic areas, including immunology, oncology and infectious diseases.

2005 – 2010

Immuno Oncology Science Image

Recipient of several awards for his work on and invention of an HIV antiviral medicine. This includes the Malcolm Campbell Award for Medicinal Chemistry from the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2005. In 2008, the Scripp Award for Best New Drug, the Prix Galien Best Pharmaceutical Agent award and the ACS Heroes of Chemistry Award. Then in 2010,of the Discoverer’s Award, PhRMA’s highest honor and the UCB Ehrlich Award for Medicinal Chemistry from the European Federation of Medicinal Chemistry.

Featured publications

Authors: David C Blakemore, Luis Castro, Ian Churcher, David C Rees, Andrew W Thomas, David M Wilson and Anthony Wood

Date: 22 March 2018

Published: Nature Chemistry

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Authors: Antonia F. Stepan, Kapil Karki, W Scott McDonald, Peter H Dorff, Jason K Dutra, Kenneth J DiRico, Annie Won, Chakrapani Subramanyam, Ivan V Efremov, Christopher J O’Donnell, Charles E Nolan, Stacey L Becker, Leslie R Pustilnik, Blossom Sneed, Hao Sun, Yasong Lu, Ashley E. Robshaw, David Riddell, Theresa J O'Sullivan, Evelyn Sibley, Steven Capetta, Kevin Atchison, Andrew J Hallgren, Emily Miller, Anthony Wood, and R Scott Obach

Date: 24 November 2011

Published: Journal of Medicinal Chemistry

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Authors: Paul A Glossop, Christine AL Watson, David A Price, Mark E Bunnage, Donald S Middleton, Anthony Wood, Kim James, Dannielle Roberts, Ross S Strang, Michael Yeadon, Christelle Perros-Huguet, Nicholas P Clarke, Michael A Trevethick, Ian Machin, Emilio F Stuart, Steven M Evans, Anthony C Harrison, David A Fairman, Balaji Agoram, Jane L Burrows, Neil Feeder, Craig K Fulton, Barry R Dillon, David A Entwistle, and Fiona J Spence

Date: 29 August 2011

Published: Journal of Medicinal Chemistry

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Authors: Romuald Corbau, Julie Mori, Chris Phillips, Lesley Fishburn, Alex Martin, Charles Mowbray, Wendy Panton, Caroline Smith-Burchnell, Adele Thornberry, Heather Ringrose, Thorsten Knöchel, Steve Irving, Mike Westby, Anthony Wood, Manos Perros

Date: 1 October 2010

Published: Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy

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Authors: Charles E Mowbray, Catherine Burt, Romuald Corbau, Simon Gayton, Michael Hawes, Manos Perros, Isabelle Tran, David A Price, Faye J Quinton, Matthew D Selby, Paul A Stupple, Rob Webster, Anthony Wood

Date: 15 October 2009

Published: Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters

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Authors: Anthony Wood, Duncan Armour

Date: 1 January 2005

Published: Progress in Medical Chemistry

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