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Evidence that Roche Is Distancing Itself from the Traditional Pharma Business Model

Posted Sep 16 2010 12:00am

I have previously blogged about Roche's interest and focus on companion diagnostics (see: More Details About Roche's Companion Diagnostics Strategy ; A Closer Look at Companion Diagnostics Strategies ; Consideration of a Broader Definition for "Companion Diagnostics" ). This is a strategy whereby a company such as Roche co-develops, or recommends, a gatekeeper biomarker test or IVDMIA that qualifies a patient for treatment with a particular biotech drug manufactured by that company. Also keep in mind the company's recent purchase of BioImagene, one of the leaders in digital pathology. This allows the blending of digital pathology with the product line of Ventana . Now comes news that Roche is abandoning its relationship with the pharma trade association PhRMA and casting its lot with BIO , the biotechnology trade association (see: Special Report: Has Roche got the right medicine? ). Here is an excerpt from the article:

[Roche] had just announced it was quitting the U.S. industry lobby group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) to join the biotechnology association BIO.It was a startling move by the youthful [CEO], a softly spoken lawyer by training with a background in economics. In effect, the boss was ditching Roche Holding AG's century-old identity as a traditional drugmaker and declaring it different from the rest of the industry....He argued that the future of his company, which had just bought the remainder of South San Francisco-based Genentech for $46.8 billion to become the world's biggest biotech group, was now firmly aligned to the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). BIO's members, their business rooted in genetic engineering, had a jeans-and-sneakers approach far removed from the suits, traditional chemistry and mounting pricing pressures all too familiar to PhRMA members. Behind the spat was a fundamental question. Basel-based Roche was the biggest supplier of modern drugs for cancer, the hottest area of pharmaceutical research and development, and the leader in hi-tech diagnostics, the field that holds the key to the new era of personalized medicine. Was [he] making yet another smart move by throwing in his lot with biotech? Would the Swiss company now leave rivals in the dust as its profits and rating soared?

From where I sit, Roche's strategy can be summarized with the following four terms: biotech, cancer therapy, personalized medicine, and companion diagnostics. Here's my definition for personalized medicine from a previous note (see: Further Consideration of the Definition for Personalized Medicine ):

: targeted diagnostics and therapeutics that incorporate the knowledge gained through evidence-based medicine as well as the individual and unique characteristics of the patient being treated.

I believe that classic Big Pharma has lost much of its steam and that Roche is moving in the right direction, at least in terms of the market, science, and profits (see: Some Evidence that Big Pharma Has Lost Its Innovation Mojo ). However, what's the relevance of this new Roche direction for pathology and the clinical lab industry? Well, two of the global powerhouses in healthcare, Roche and Siemens, are now betting heavily on the future of medical diagnostics but in a slightly different way. The former envisions diagnostics as tightly intertwined with its pharmaceutical business and is placing great emphasis on IVD as well as automated tissue processing/tissue biomarkers with its Ventana division and digital pathology with BioImagene. The Siemens strategy is more of a pure integrated diagnostics play involving medical imaging as well as IVD. In both cases, there will be much more emphasis on diagnostics in guiding therapy and also assessing the efficacy of drug therapy. Previously, diagnostics was used primarily to arrive at a diagnosis of a disease. Pathology and lab medicine will derive large benefits from the pursuit of both of these models.

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