Roche chief pushes productivity while waiting on new drugs

Roche CEO Severin Schwan (photo) is promising big leaps forward, thanks to drugs targeted by companion diagnostics. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Schwan pointed to the company's new melanoma drug Zelboraf, along with a handful of others in the pipeline. Of course, those big leaps are bound to take a while, given they're mostly based on drugs not yet filed for approval.

In the meantime, the company is focusing on its efficiency drive--aka, its restructuring program. "We are constantly working on productivity improvements across the entire organization," Schwan said.

And there, Schwan says, Roche is accelerating forward. The company announced last November it would lose 4,800 jobs and cut enough costs to save 2.4 billion Swiss francs ($3 billion) a year from 2012. Even though it hasn't been able to unload a South Carolina plant slated for sale--because of a lack of acceptable bids--the company is slightly ahead of its schedule on restructuring, Schwan said.

Schwan also addresses generic competition (it won't be as bad as everyone thinks, thanks to the difficult of copying Herceptin and Rituxan, he says); pricing pressures (expected to cut sales by 1% this year); and "compromise" on price to get drugs to more patients (but not too much of a compromise). The upshot? Roche's glass is at least half full.

- read the WSJ interview