Is Roche's pRED fi­nal­ly ready to step out from be­hind Genen­tech for its close­up? Prob­a­bly not

John Reed
Bioreg­num
The view from John Car­roll

It’s been close to 5 years since John Reed jumped from San­ford-Burn­ham to be­come the head of Roche’s Basel-based pRED or­ga­ni­za­tion. And on­ly now is the big drug re­search group he leads get­ting a close­up af­ter years spent watch­ing his col­leagues at gRED — Genen­tech — steal the show with a string of block­buster hits.

The old pRED was shred­ded when Roche an­nounced in the sum­mer of 2012 that it would shut­ter its big R&D cam­pus in Nut­ley, NJ and move a group of sur­vivors in­to Man­hat­tan. The re­or­ga­ni­za­tion, like any such R&D or­ga­ni­za­tion, Reed told me in 2013, was pure “poi­son” for the group, vow­ing to stick with a re­search strat­e­gy and avoid any more such trau­mat­ic dis­rup­tions.

There was one key suc­cess, with Gazy­va, but that hasn’t per­formed spec­tac­u­lar­ly well so far on the mar­ket­ing side of things. And some of the drugs that Reed men­tioned to me back in 2013 — like RG7116 and emac­tuzum­ab — ap­pear to have ei­ther been lost along the way or still face a long clin­i­cal path. And even in­side Roche there ap­pears to have been some grow­ing frus­tra­tions.

Sev­erin Schwan

Roche CEO Sev­erin Schwan, though, is now ready to em­brace the long over­shad­owed pRED, tap­ping some mid-stage pro­grams as top prospects. Here’s what he had to tell Reuters:

“In pRED, some ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties are now com­ing through af­ter a time when many things did not work. It goes in waves. You can’t pro­gram to have a cer­tain num­ber of mol­e­cules com­ing through the pipeline every year in each unit.”

An­oth­er ex­ec put it this way: “Thank God. It took a while, but pRED is fi­nal­ly start­ing to de­liv­er.”

So what’s in the spot­light?

A bis­pe­cif­ic called CEA-TCB that en­gages T cells for an at­tack on can­cer cells, a fol­low-up drug for Lu­cen­tis, ida­sunut­lin for AML and an autism drug.

It’s un­usu­al for any gi­ant phar­ma com­pa­ny like Roche to tout mid-stage pro­grams, which have a high mor­tal­i­ty rate, es­pe­cial­ly as mar­ket­ing chal­lenges can now just as eas­i­ly kill off a pro­gram just as sure­ly as bad da­ta ever could. But then it’s al­so ex­tra­or­di­nar­i­ly un­usu­al for a com­pa­ny like Roche to suc­cess­ful­ly ac­quire Genen­tech with­out killing the in­no­v­a­tive spir­it that drove a leg­endary string of new can­cer drugs in­to ex­is­tence.

The gen­er­al con­sen­sus at the time was that the but­toned down Basel crew would de­stroy the col­or­ful cul­ture at Genen­tech, elim­i­nat­ing its abil­i­ty to stay on the cut­ting edge of drug re­search. In­stead, even as top ex­ecs moved on to oth­er things, flow­er­ing Bay Area star­tups, the Bay Area com­pa­ny con­tin­ued to thrive.

Reed and pRED, both of which have main­tained a very low pro­file in re­cent years, still have a long way to go be­fore prov­ing whether Roche can cre­ate the same spir­it in the large­ly Eu­ro­pean or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Mer­ck is tak­ing the ax to its US op­er­a­tions, cut­ting 500 jobs in its lat­est re­or­ga­ni­za­tion

Merck is cutting 500 jobs in its US sales and headquarters commercial teams in its latest effort to find new ways to streamline the operation.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 62,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Alice Shaw, Lung Cancer Foundation of America

Top ALK ex­pert and can­cer drug re­searcher Al­ice Shaw bids adieu to acad­e­mia, hel­lo to No­var­tis

Jay Bradner has recruited a marquee oncology drug researcher into the ranks of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research. Alice Shaw is jumping from prestigious posts intertwined through Mass General, Harvard and Dana-Farber to take the lead of NIBR’s translational clinical oncology group.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 62,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Hal Barron, GSK's president of R&D and CSO, speaks to Endpoints News founder and editor John Carroll in London at Endpoints' #UKBIO19 summit on October 8, 2019

[Video] Cel­e­brat­ing tri­al fail­ures, chang­ing the cul­ture and al­ly­ing with Cal­i­for­nia dream­ers: R&D chief Hal Bar­ron talks about a new era at GSK

Last week I had a chance to sit down with Hal Barron at Endpoints’ #UKBIO19 summit to discuss his views on R&D at GSK, a topic that has been central to his life since he took the top research post close to 2 years ago. During the conversation, Barron talked about changing the culture at GSK, a move that involves several new approaches — one of which involves celebrating their setbacks as they shift resources to the most promising programs in the pipeline. Barron also discussed his new alliances in the Bay Area — including his collaboration pact with Lyell, which we covered here — frankly assesses the pluses and minuses of the UK drug development scene, and talks about his plans for making GSK a much more effective drug developer.

This is one discussion you won’t want to miss. Insider and Enterprise subscribers can log-in to watch the video.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Flu Virus (Source: CDC)

FDA ex­pands Xofluza ap­proval as Roche strug­gles to catch loom­ing flu mar­ket

As a potentially powerful flu season looms, so does a big test for Roche and its new flu drug, Xofluza. The Swiss giant just got a small boost in advance of that test as the FDA expanded Xofluza’s indication to include patients at high risk of developing flu-related complications.

Xofluza (baloxavir marboxil) was approved last October in the US, the first landmark flu drug approval in 20 years and a much-needed green light for a company that had watched its leading flu drug Tamiflu get eaten alive by generics. Like its predecessor, the pill offered a reduction in flu symptoms but not a cure.

EMA backs sev­en ther­a­pies, in­clud­ing Mer­ck­'s Ebo­la vac­cine

The first-ever Ebola vaccine is on the precipice of approval after the European Medicine’s Agency (EMA) backed the Merck product in this week’s roster of recommendations.

The drugmaker $MRK began developing the vaccine, christened Ervebo, during the West African outbreak that occurred between 2014 and 2016, killing more than 11,000.

The current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has shown case fatality rates of approximately 67%, the agency estimated. Earlier this year, the WHO declared the outbreak — which so far has infected more than 3,000 people — a public health emergency of international concern.

Ronald Herb­st fol­lows Med­Im­mune ex­o­dus to Pyx­is CSO post; Jeff God­dard to suc­ceed CEO of AIT Bio­science

→ The outflow of top execs from MedImmune continues to fill the leadership ranks of smaller biotechs. The latest to take off is Ronald Herbst, the head of oncology research, who’s assuming the CSO post at Pyxis Oncology.  

Herbst was part of the old MedImmune organization AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot restructured earlier this year, reorganizing the company and eliminating the storied subsidiary as a separate organization.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 62,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Med­ical an­i­ma­tion: Mak­ing it eas­i­er for the site and the pa­tient to un­der­stand

Medical animation has in recent years become an increasingly important tool for conveying niche information to a varied audience, particularly to those audiences without expertise in the specialist area. Science programmes today, for example, have moved from the piece-to-camera of the university professor explaining how a complex disease mechanism works, to actually showing the viewer first-hand what it might look like to shrink ourselves down to the size of an ant’s foot, and travel inside the human body to witness these processes in action. Effectively communicating a complex disease pathophysiology, or the novel mechanism of action of a new drug, can be complex. This is especially difficult when the audience domain knowledge is limited or non-existent. Medical animation can help with this communication challenge in several ways.
Improved accessibility to visualisation
Visualisation is a core component of our ability to understand a concept. Ask 10 people to visualise an apple, and each will come up with a slightly different image, some apples smaller than others, some more round, some with bites taken. Acceptable, you say, we can move on to the next part of the story. Now ask 10 people to visualise how HIV’s capsid protein gets arranged into the hexamers and pentamers that form the viral capsid that holds HIV’s genetic material. This request may pose a challenge even to someone with some virology knowledge, and it is that inability to effectively visualise what is going on that holds us back from fully understanding the rest of the story. So how does medical animation help us to overcome this visualisation challenge?

UP­DAT­ED: J&J's Xarel­to, Amar­in's Vas­cepa are cost-ef­fec­tive, not bud­get friend­ly — ICER

ICER, an increasingly influential cost-effectiveness watchdog in the United States, has concluded in its review of treatments for cardiovascular disease that while the cost of J&J’s Xarelto and Amarin’s Vascepa meet its benchmark for value pricing — the two treatments will not likely treat as many patients as hoped without surpassing the annual budget threshold calculated by ICER for each therapy.

Mi­rati preps its first look at their KRAS G12C con­tender, and they have to clear a high bar for suc­cess

If you’re a big KRAS G12C fan, mark your calendars for October 28 at 4:20 pm EDT.

That’s when Mirati $MRTX will unveil its first peek at the early clinical data available on MRTX849 in presentations at the AACR-NCI-EORTC International Conference on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics in Boston.

Mirati has been experiencing the full effect of a rival’s initial success at targeting the G12C pocket found on KRAS, offering the biotech some support on the concept they’re after — and biotech fans a race to the top. Amgen made a big splash with its first positive snapshot on lung cancer, but deflated sky-high expectations as it proved harder to find similar benefits in other types of cancers.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 62,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.