With seven products that exceed the billion of turnover and patents, except one, are not ready to expire, the Swiss pharmaceutical group Roche is now figure of flagship of the world pharmacy, at the time where competitors must deal with the offensive of generics, with pipeline research almost empty for most of them. At the end of the 1990s, the Swiss group was yet also in a difficult situation after the failure of several molecules at the end of clinical development, aggravated by severe penalties for participation in an agreement on the prices of vitamins. Rock then decided to proceed with a focus on the pharmacy of prescription and diagnosis. He relents, successively, its vitamins and its fine chemicals in September 2002, and then, in July 2004, the self-medication.
In return, in 2002, Roche takes, for approximately $ 1.5 billion, control of 51.1 of the capital of the Japanese Chugaï, ten number laboratory and one of the most innovative. In this new configuration, it will combine its own R & D forces with those of its two affiliates, Chugaï and Genentech. Roche had indeed acquired, in 1990, 60 of the capital of the number two world of biotechnology for an amount, held then prohibitive, for $ 2.1 billion. It is yet today Genentech that come from three of the main products of rock: anti-cancer Rituxan, Avastin and Herceptin, which exceed the billion of turnover.
It is believed Roche science and technology as the engine of innovation, and not only to the marketing. The Group also did not hesitate to make bets on the subject. The acquisition of Genentech is one. "At the time, nobody could predict that monoclonal antibodies would constitute a major class of new treatments", notes Jonathan Knowles, head of Roche pharma research. The redemption, in 1991, the technology of PCR (DNA amplification) to Cetus Corporation, for $ 300 million, is another. Not only its inventor, Karry Mullis, is rewarded in 1993, by the Nobel Prize in chemistry, but it is the one which will allow the development of Molecular Diagnostics, Roche and elsewhere. And greatly facilitate the sequencing of the human genome. The PCR is now absolutely essential in molecular biology.
This Rock creed in science is finally paying, because drugs put on the market, fruits of new approaches, bring a real therapeutic benefit to patients. This is particularly true of monoclonal antibodies in cancer. These successes largely explain the figures for the sale of these products. However, we are not at all in the case of the "blockbusters" classic, which had their sales high to very broad requirements, said Ed Holdener, head of development of Roche Pharma." "Here, it is of high value added products, paid as such by prices high, prescribed very targeted populations, and not necessarily very many. But to do this, he took to give time to be right. Indeed, investment in Genentech developed thirteen or fourteen years to bear fruit.
Autonomy of the research
This same ability to have a long-term vision and keep prevailed research management. As all pharmaceutical companies, Roche is seeking the recipe that will make its most productive research. For Jonathan Knowles, "are often the crazy ideas that allow the barriers", or understand something before competitors. This, to encourage their emergence. In 1997, the decision is taken to organize the research at several sites specialized by therapeutic area and enjoying extensive autonomy. And the Group was held, deaf to the successive modes. Research centres, with each year own budget, arbitrate between projects. They are now four main for the pharmacy industry, and even more in diagnosis where each of the five entities has its own research, possibly spread over several sites.
In return, a very powerful data exchange system was introduced, which allows every moment to any researcher where are his colleagues at other centres, and also use eventually developed solutions elsewhere when it encounters a problem. In addition to coordination meetings, it is this system that ensures the cohesion of the whole, and is, according to Jonathan Knowles, the difference with competitors, which have more recently adopted this type of organization. A recent comparative study, the research of rock would be indeed 40 more efficient than the industry average.
This federalist culture, rock also applies to long date to its subsidiaries. Unlike its competitors, rock left a very large autonomy. It is certainly allowing for Genentech to remain productive. "Despite its majority in the capital, rock even would not sit on the Board of Directors during the first six or seven years", said Peter Hug, head of Roche Pharma cell responsible for partnerships. Idem with Chugaï. The objective is to accept without breaking the dynamics. Under partnership agreements more limited with biotechnology companies, as there currently ongoing 50 pharmacy, Roche also estimates make the tailor-made. "We take into account aspirations of the partner and it is not two agreements that work exactly the same way, observes Peter Hug." Many of our competitors say to do, but we do, and our partners are to testify.
The contribution of technology
The encouragement of creativity does not so rigorous. At each step, and until the placing on the market, the molecule must meet very strict requirements. "Try to move quickly, it is good, because the competition is on our heels permanently, commented Ed Holdener.". But it must not lead us to rush. If, for example, then repeat studies to respond to a request for complementary information from regulatory agencies, it will instead lost time.
A relevant use of technology can also contribute to greater rigour in research and development. "Since the technological revolution of the 1990s, which brought the genomics, screening throughput, combinatorial chemistry, etc., few really new technologies appeared, said Klaus Lindpainter, Director of the technological cell of Roche Pharma." However, it began well control. "Today, more reliable and more robust, they can now be used in routine. "We have thus refocused our activity up to 50 on the implementation of a quality control at all stages of the process of R & D, says Klaus Lindpainter." This is not always well accepted, because it is felt by researchers such as bureaucratic, but we must be beyond reproach in our procedures to ever-growing regulatory requirements. In these circumstances, craft is no longer appropriate. "Yet acknowledges Ed Holdener,"there is no infallible molecules selection tool." It is also the chance. "We hope that it will continue to accompany us in the renewal of our product portfolio".