Roche execs take Genentech reins

The Roche-ification of Genentech has begun. The Swiss drugmaker has moved the illustrious Art Levinson (photo) upstairs, placing a Roche veteran in his CEO chair. Levinson will chair Genentech's new board, and he'll be busy overseeing the integration of the two companies. Roche promises to nominate him as a director next year. But steering Genentech day-to-day will be Pascal Soriot, who now runs commercial operations for Roche's drug division.

Roche types will also take over the CFO and compliance officer spots, as those Genentech executives make their exits. Genentech President of Product Development Susan Desmond-Hellmann (photo) will no longer serve in that post; she'll take on an "advisory role" and join Genentech's science board.

About the only segment of Genentech that looks to remain intact--at least for now--is research and early development, which will operate as an "independent center" within Roche Group, under the leadership of Richard Scheller, who's currently EVP Genentech Research. He'll report directly to Roche CEO Severin Schwan, and he'll be part of Roche's exec committee.

Ironically, Reuters has a story today that relays Roche Chairman Franz Humer's doubts that his company could leave well enough alone if it ever owned Genentech outright. Quoting David Mott, the lately departed MedImmune CEO who'd gone to Humer for advice, Reuters reports that Humer said, "[I]f we owned all of Genentech we would kill it. ...We wouldn't be able to resist tinkering and playing with it."

Stephen Burrill, biotech investor extraordinaire, expects that Genentech must and will change as part of Roche--and that some employees will decide to take a hike because of that change. But Genentech's loss could be the industry's gain, he says: "This is the beginning of a major diffusion of talent throughout the biotech industry."

- see the Roche release
- read the article in the San Francisco Chronicle
- check out the Reuters story