Illustration shows GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) logo
GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) logo is seen in this illustration, August 10, 2022.

Britain's GSK has appointed its first female chief financial officer, Julie Brown, to succeed Iain Mackay, as the drugmaker focuses on its core pharmaceuticals business.

With Emma Walmsley as GSK's chief executive, Brown's appointment also creates a rare, all-female top management at a blue-chip British company and a global pharma major.

Brown, who has extensive experience in the health and pharmaceutical industry, will join GSK from luxury fashion brand Burberry, in April and take up the job in May.

"Post the recent separation of the consumer health business, there may have been a desire to increase Healthcare experience in GSK's management team," JP Morgan analysts wrote in a note.

Mackay, 60, will retire next year after almost four years as GSK's finance chief, before which he completed an eight-year stint as group finance director at HSBC.

His retirement, which has been under discussion for some time, comes after GSK's spin off of its large consumer health business, Haleon, in July. It also follows the departure of chief scientific officer Hal Barron in August.

Brown, 60, joined Burberry in 2017 from medical products maker Smith & Nephew and was a board member at Swiss drugmaker Roche until Sept. 26 when she stepped down.

She also served in several finance roles at AstraZeneca, which last year appointed a female CFO, Aradhana Sarin.

"It is particularly pleasing seeing a global biopharma company, a sector dominated by men, led by two women," said Lucy Coutts, investment director at wealth management firm JM Finn, which holds GSK shares.

GSK said Brown will receive an annual base salary of more than 900,000 pounds.

"Julie is a highly experienced CFO with a tremendous understanding of the biopharma sector. We also share a strong passion for people development, diversity, inclusion and sustainability," Walmsley said in a statement.

GSK has struck several multi-billion dollar deals under Mackay to shore up its drug pipeline after years of relative underperformance.

However, near-term investor focus remains on the potential for financial liabilities around U.S. litigation for the heartburn drug, Zantac, which was initially marketed by a forerunner of GSK, and a host of drugmakers since.

Brown was engaged well before the Zantac news hit shares, Barclays analysts wrote in a note.

"The message from GSK is one of continuity," they said, adding: "with some inorganic supplementation of the pipeline to be expected, but nothing 'seismic'".

In July, GSK delivered a strong second-quarter performance, boosting its full-year forecast.