Change at the top for Roche: Diagnostics chief Schinecker to take over as CEO replacing Schwan

Leading Roche’s successful effort to develop COVID-19 test kits helped solidify Thomas Schinecker’s status as the company’s heir apparent to the CEO post. On Thursday, the Swiss pharma powerhouse made it official.

On the same day that it reported its quarterly earnings, Roche said in a separate release that 47-year-old Schinecker, Ph.D.—the CEO of the company’s diagnostics division for the last three years—will take over effective on March 15 of next year, replacing Severin Schwan.  

Schwan, 54, who became one of the world’s youngest Big Pharma CEOs when he took over in 2008, will move to the chairman seat at Roche, replacing Chris Franz, who has held the position since 2014 and will not seek reelection to the board.

“It is now the right time for a change in leadership,” Franz said in the announcement.

Schinecker’s star continued to rise during the pandemic. Last year, Roche’s testing sales grew 29% to 17.8 billion Swiss francs ($19.4 billion), with COVID diagnostics accounting for roughly a quarter of the total.

The performance helped Roche recover from its decline in oncology, especially in the United States where biosimilars have dented sales for longtime blockbusters Rituxan, Avastin and Herceptin.

Schwan credited Schinecker’s rise to his “fantastic, outstanding track record,” during a call with reporters. Schwan added that the change has been in the works as part of Roche’s “long-term planning and continuity.”

Schinecker’s takeover will come in his 20th year with the company, while it will be Schwan’s 30th year at Roche. Schwan took the same route as Schinecker, also serving as diagnostics chief before moving up to the CEO role.

Schwan was rewarded as well for guiding the company “confidently and successfully through challenging times,” Andre Hoffman, vice president of Roche’s board, said in the release.

One of Schwan's first successes was to acquire California biotech Genentech for $46.8 billion. Later, he also helped Roche diversify from the dependence the lucrative oncology products from Genentech brought as the company has thrived behind hemophilia drug Hemlibra and multiple sclerosis med Ocrevus.

In November of last year, with the company’s stock price trading at an all-time high on the SIX Swiss Exchange, Roche bought back its 33% voting stake from Novartis for roughly $20.7 billion.