People, R&D

The underdog champion of Roche’s huge pRED group is out. John Reed is coming home to America

John Reed’s 5-year effort to revamp Roche’s big, unproductive pRED research group is over.

Recruited from his position as head of the prestigious Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla, CA, Reed’s job was to bind up the wounds and rally pRED after a major reorganization that led Roche to sever its sprawling campus in Nutley, NJ. Today, Roche CEO Severin Schwan said he was out, leaving for “personal reasons” and returning to the US.

William Pao

William Pao is taking his place, moving up from his role as head of pRED’s oncology discovery and translational area.

Roche is unique among the top 10 pharma players to divide its research group in two. But after it acquired complete control of Genentech, the major focus was preventing the cancer research powerhouse from losing its legendary mojo and disintegrating into an empty shell. Roche badly needed Genentech to provide a slate of new, blockbuster drugs, and that is exactly what the South San Francisco biotech group has accomplished as a separate organization.

Reed, though, was based in Basel, taking the reins of a group that included all its European operations as well as a base camp of survivors from Nutley who were moved into Manhattan.

“This will be the last of the moves for some time,” Reed assured me as they cut the ribbon on their new digs in New York back in 2013. Moves, he added, “are just poison.”

Reed’s arrival provided some stability. But his tenure ends without any string of major successes to reflect on.

One standout, Gazyva, 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, pleasantly waved off by Schwan in a recent interview with Reuters when he said:

You can’t program to have a certain number of molecules coming through the pipeline every year in each unit.

The group does have its spotlight programs, including 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 called RG7314 (balovaptan), which won a “breakthrough” therapy worthy of VIP treatment at the agency.

Some of that may yet help highlight Reed’s tenure in one of the top jobs in drug research. But 5 years is a long time for the jury to be out.


Image: John Reed. ROCHE


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