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.
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.
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