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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – (NYSE: GSK)’s current chairman of research and development will also be the next head of its vaccines unit.

In announcing a succession plan Friday, the drug giant said Jean Stephenne, the current president of GSK Biologicals, is also chairman of the group “with immediate effect.”

According to the company, Moncef Slaoui, the chairman of research and development, will assume operational responsibility of the vaccine group “over the next two years.”

“Succession planning is fundamental to GSK’s long-term success and today’s changes are clear evidence that we are taking proactive steps to maintain excellent leadership in our business,” said GSK Chief Executive Officer Andrew Witty in a statement.

Witty has been pursuing organizational changes within the drug giant since becoming CEO two years ago.

“Jean has built a world-leading vaccines business and as chairman will continue to be instrumental in driving forward our public health agenda,” Witty added. “Moncef has more than 17 years experience working in the vaccines area and has played a critical role in developing the strong pipeline we have today. These changes will ensure continued strong focus on delivery and development of this pipeline; they also reflect the more holistic approach we are taking to R&D capital investment.”

GSK operates its U.S. headquarters in RTP and employs more than 4,000 people in the Triangle area.

In other news Friday, California-based Ligand Pharmaceuticals Inc. said GSK had won European regulatory approval to sell the blood disorder drug Revolade. It was discovered by Ligand, is already approved in the U.S. as Promacta.

GSK handled the European application.

Thrombocytopenia purpura is rare blood condition that involves low platelet counts, making it more difficult for blood to clot.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.