In high-lev­el reshuf­fle, Roche gives James Sabry the glob­al reins on deal-mak­ing — over­see­ing pRED and gRED

In the 9 years since Roche bought up all of Genen­tech, the Swiss phar­ma gi­ant has been care­ful to leave its lega­cy R&D group pRED sep­a­rate from the folks at the gRED op­er­a­tions they ac­quired in San Fran­cis­co. But in a star­tling shift to­day the ex­ec­u­tive team knit­ted the two groups’ BD teams in­to one, com­bin­ing part­ner­ing ops and mak­ing Genen­tech’s James Sabry their glob­al deal czar for phar­ma.

So­phie Ko­rnows­ki-Bon­net, the French na­tive who had been head of part­ner­ing at Roche and sat on the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, is leav­ing for a “new op­por­tu­ni­ty,” just weeks af­ter the re­search chief John Reed leaped to run Sanofi’s re­search group as that phar­ma gi­ant looks to be­come more self-re­liant. And Sabry, a high-pro­file fig­ure in the US biotech scene — par­tic­u­lar­ly Cal­i­for­nia — is jump­ing on­to the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee and mov­ing to Basel.

I queried Sabry by e-mail about his new job, and he replied:

“There is much to dis­cuss as this is a new­ly cre­at­ed role. Very much ex­cit­ed to be tak­ing this on at this par­tic­u­lar time.”

Sabry struck a string of deals in the 8 years he’s been in charge of part­ner­ing at Genen­tech. He tends to avoid the splashy stuff — mega-deals are out of fa­vor at Roche, with bolt-ons the fa­vored ap­proach to M&A. He’s been on the look­out for deals to fill des­ig­nat­ed seg­ments of the pipeline at Genen­tech, which has eas­i­ly been the dom­i­nant play­er at Roche in pro­duc­ing new block­busters. Over at pRED, the phar­ma team has had sig­nif­i­cant­ly less suc­cess, though ex­ecs have voiced their sat­is­fac­tion with the group re­cent­ly.

“We are not lim­it­ed by cap­i­tal,” Sabry told me back in 2015 as he ex­plained his ap­proach to deal­mak­ing. Roche is, af­ter all, one of the biggest spenders in phar­ma, with a re­search bud­get of about $9 bil­lion.

But they are aw­ful­ly hard to im­press.

The biotech vet set up the $1.7 bil­lion buy­out for Ser­agon (which has not been a suc­cess), and was hap­py to play in the $1.5 bil­lion to $3 bil­lion range, along with a string of much small­er pacts. Reach up to the $8 bil­lion and $10 bil­lion are­na and CEO Sev­erin Schwan ex­pects plen­ty of hands-on in­volve­ment. Now, though, Sabry’s re­mit has ex­pand­ed con­sid­er­ably.

Much more com­mon was the $534 mil­lion mi­cro­bio­me pact Sabry struck with Mi­cro­bi­ot­i­ca a few days ago, part­ner­ing on a field where the com­pa­ny has demon­strat­ed a re­al ap­petite for ex­per­tise.

The move on the BD side comes at a crit­i­cal point of play for Roche. Their three big drug fran­chis­es are be­ing dec­i­mat­ed by gener­ics, and it’s re­ly­ing on new drugs like Hem­li­bra to make mega-cash as they dis­rupt old mar­kets. The pres­sure on per­for­mance will re­main very high.

It’s in­ter­est­ing that Sabry is be­ing giv­en a glob­al man­date for the com­pa­ny just af­ter CEO Schwan ve­he­ment­ly re­ject­ed the idea of meld­ing the two re­search groups in­to one. 

“Over my dead body,” was his re­ac­tion. But that can change, too.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

You may remember that at the beginning of this year, Endpoints News set a goal to go broader and deeper. We are still working towards that, and are excited to share that Beth Snyder Bulik will be joining us on Monday to cover all things pharma marketing. You can sign up for her weekly Endpoints MarketingRx newsletter in your reader profile.

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No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'


Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

Rob Califf (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

Biden like­ly to nom­i­nate Ver­i­ly's Rob Califf to lead the FDA again

Capping a controversially long period for the FDA to go without a permanent leader, President Joe Biden is likely to select Verily’s Rob Califf, a former FDA commissioner under President Obama, as the next FDA commissioner nominee.

A former Duke cardiologist and member of the prestigious National Academy of Medicine, Califf will be a welcome face for an agency grappling with high-profile retirements in CBER and CDER. He’ll also return to a role that he was comfortable in for a short stint at the end of Obama’s presidency. The Washington Post first reported the news.

FDA ad­comm votes unan­i­mous­ly in sup­port of a J&J Covid-19 boost­er two months af­ter one-dose shot

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) on Friday voted 19-0 in favor of authorizing a second shot of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine to follow at least two months after the initial dose.

Regulators don’t have to follow VRBPAC’s recommendation, but they almost always do. Considering that the CDC’s advisory committee has already been set to review the expanded EUA, VRBPAC’s recommendation is likely to be adopted.

FDA ad­comm to de­cide on mol­nupi­ravir EUA; Can­cer at­las un­veils new po­ten­tial drug tar­get

The FDA has another adcomm coming down the pipeline — this time on Covid-19 oral antiviral molnupiravir.

The federal agency’s advisory committee will meet on November 30th to go over Merck and Ridgeback’s EUA request for their investigational antiviral drug, and discuss the available data supporting its use in Covid-19 patients.

This comes two weeks after Merck claimed that their antiviral pill reduced the chance that newly diagnosed Covid-19 patients would be hospitalized or die by 50%. The pharma made the announcement after interim data on 775 patients in their clinical trial showed the antiviral’s potential.