Roche searches within for pharma chief Bill Anderson's successor: chairman

Roche’s pharma chief Bill Anderson is embarking on his next assignment outside the company. And the Swiss pharma isn’t really looking elsewhere for his replacement.

Roche prefers to lift a company veteran to the pharma chief job, Chairman Christoph Franz, Ph.D., said, according to a Bloomberg report. Franz himself is about to vacate the chairman role, handing the baton to Severin Schwan, who ascends from the CEO job.

“There are always risks when someone comes as a chief who isn’t familiar with the culture of the company,” Franz told reporters Wednesday, according to Bloomberg.

Roche said in December that it would announce Anderson’s successor by March 2023, when a new group CEO is expected to rule over the firm. The question is, of course, who could fill Anderson’s role.

Anderson was Genentech’s CEO before rising to the pharma chief post in 2019. Schwan was head of Roche’s diagnostics division before taking over as the entire group’s CEO in 2008, and now he’s handing the CEO reins to diagnostics helmsman Thomas Schinecker. If we follow that logic, the obvious choice for the pharma chief’s job would be Alexander Hardy, who succeeded Anderson as Genentech CEO in 2019.

Genentech is Roche’s most important pharma branch, having contributed some of the company’s best sellers over the years. They include the megablockbuster cancer troika—Avastin, Herceptin and Rituxan—as well as some newer meds like fast-growing multiple sclerosis therapy Ocrevus.

Anderson is leaving Roche not at the best of time. The company’s closely watched Alzheimer’s disease candidate gantenerumab had just failed in a phase 3. Life of TIGIT inhibitor tiragolumab also now hangs on the final patient survival readout from the phase 3 Skyscraper-01 trial in lung cancer after tumor progression data missed the mark.

Recent setbacks have increased anxiety among investors on top of big biosimilar erosion of the cancer troika and dwindling sales from COVID-related products. Jefferies has recently downgraded Roche’s shares to “hold,” and J.P. Morgan earlier this month also downgraded the company to “sell.” Other investment analysts like Cowen and Stifel had lowered Roche’s share price target in November after the Alzheimer’s flop.

On the flip side, Roche has some positive news in recent months. The company’s blood cancer business celebrated major wins, including an FDA approval of first-in-class CD20xCD3 T-cell-engaging bispecific antibody Lunsumio.