Genentech: Becoming a Part of Roche




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Video title: Genentech: Becoming a Part of Roche
Released on: October 13, 2009. © PharmaVentures Ltd
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In this interview, filmed at BioPharm in San Francisco, Dr Fintan Walton speaks with Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Executive Vice President, Research & CSO at Genentech, one of the world's leading biotech companies

They discuss:

• the change to the company now Genentech is owned by Roche
• partnering strategy
• the stars in the company’s product pipeline
• how Genentech chooses which targets to focus on
• the company’s focus on oncology, immunology, neuroscience and infectious diseases
• innovation and Genentech’s involvement in adopting new breakthrough therapeutic approaches
• how Marc believes the company will development in the next 3-5 years
The change to the company now Genentech is owned by Roche
Fintan Walton :
Hello and welcome to PharmaTelevision news review here in San Francisco at BioPharm America. On this show I have March Tessier Lavigne, who is the Chief Scientific Officer and Executive Vice President at Genentech. Welcome to the show.
March Tessier Lavigne:
Thank you.
Fintan Walton :
March Tessier Lavigne, Genentech has gone through this transformation is now part of the Roche family in terms of being the 100% owned by the organization. There has been a transformation for Genentech as a result of that, you lead obviously a very important component to Genentech as it still stands today. Just could you give us a little bit of indication of how things are now today and how are they different from the past?
March Tessier Lavigne:
Well, when Roche made the, the bid to acquire the remainder of Genentech [PharmaDeals ID = 30853][DOI: 10.3833/pdr.v2009i3.1075], it announced that it intended to keep the Genentech research and early clinical development organization as an independent unit reporting directly to the CEO with its own budget decision making authority and so forth in order to preserve the culture of Genentech and since the merger last March that's exactly what's happened, we've been set up as a unit called Genentech research and early development or gRED. There are about 1300 people in the research organization which I head, the unit is run by Richard Scheller and includes an addition to research our colleagues in the early development organization as well as portfolio management, business development and so forth. And our deliverable within the Roche organization are medicines that are ready for pivotal trials typically Phase III ready medicines, sometimes earlier. And because we are independent, because we report directly to the CEO we can set our own agenda, choose which targets to focus on, tackle them in the ways that we see as best and develop them through proof of concept. So in many ways its business as usual. At the same time the " we have access to the broader Roche organization and to the technologies, the IP and other resources that are available in the organization, so we also drawn that as well. So we are now one of the autonomous centers within the Rocheorganization that are focused on developing medicines that can then be put into the late stage organization.
Fintan Walton :
So what's important obviously is to retain that " you called as autonomous, it's give that chance to be entrepreneurial still, what was Genentech many years ago, How do you achieve that and continue to keep that alive within an organization?
March Tessier Lavigne:
Right. And actually that's a question that you could have asked about Genentech as a, an independent entity a year ago or two-years ago when the research organization had grown to be more than 1000 people and we " we had the same challenge in making sure that we maintain the same kind of entrepreneurial spirit. And I would say what's helped us in that regard both before we were acquired by Roche and since is the, the strong science based culture of Genentech. It's been all about focusing on the best science, the best scientific insights to focus on the best targets and take them forward for drug discovery. And at the same time to focus on the people, so focusing on the quality of the people at the grass roots, the grass roots scientist are strong focus of Genentech over the years, but also to have the right senior leadership team in place at the management level. And we believe that it is possible to scale a research organization to maintain that kind of entrepreneurial spirit " if you, if you organize yourself the right way and you maintain the proper focus we believe that before the merger, we believe that after the merger.
The company's focus on oncology, immunology, neuroscience and infectious diseases.
Fintan Walton :
So the focus from a therapeutic point of view is what, are you still focused on the areas that you have -- you had before the full integration to Roche?
March Tessier Lavigne:
Absolutely. So as you know we had come to grow four major therapeutics areas, oncology is our major focus. Genentechentered oncology early back in the 90's and about 45% of our activity in the research organization focuses on oncology. We started building out immunology in the early 1990's that remains an area of growth for us by 25% of our activities, and starting about three and a half years ago we decided to build out neuroscience with a major focus on neurodegenerative disease and also infectious diseases. So those are the four major areas, we have some activity in others as well. And we've maintained that therapeutic area focus as we've transitioned through the merger it's been maintained intact.
How Genentech chooses which targets to focus on.
Fintan Walton :
Right. So are we likely to see shifts on that, I mean under the autonomy label does that still allow Genentech to go into other therapeutics, if the therapeutic areas are difficult for us to do so?
March Tessier Lavigne:
Absolutely. So we have the freedom to explore other areas and to shift our portfolio as we see fit, again we are data driven, we try to focus on the intersection if you will of breaking scientific opportunity where the understanding is increasing our unmet medical need and tractable clinical development plan those are the three prongs that "if the intersection in that venn diagram is where we like to work and so this has lead us into those areas as " that's the logic we apply and as circumstances change there will be shifts and we may be come interest in other areas as well and we absolutely have the freedom to enter those areas.
Partnering strategy
Fintan Walton :
Okay. Clearly 2009 has been a landmark time for Genentech, it's also a landmark time for biotech companies in general the once that are venture capital backed. Have you seen a change from your perspective in terms of alliances, obviously alliance is still a very important to Genentech in terms of the access to science, access to research within other biotech companies, has that changed in 2009 for Genentech?
March Tessier Lavigne:
Well we " you're absolutely right that partnering is a very major component of what we do " there are very few projects at Genentech that haven't been touched in one way or another by a partner. Clearly with the " the financial down turn, we've seen partners struggling financially. There has been still a steady flow of innovation and we continue to be customers of that innovation, but there is no question we see that, that some partners are potential partners are struggling, and I hope that we can make it through that period, I really believe that for us to be successful in the long-term we have-to-have a vibrant ecology of small companies that we can partner with, because we can't sustain all the innovation that we need by ourselves.
Fintan Walton :
Right. And does that mean you have to change the way you dealt with some biotech companies as result of this?
March Tessier Lavigne:
There is no question that partners sometimes will be concerned about you know doing the deal more rapidly than otherwise, so there a bit more pressure on the partners. But overall the general focus is always on the science, how best to structure the partnership for both parties and that hasn't changed.
The stars in the company's product pipeline.
Fintan Walton :
Could you just tell us a little bit about the pipeline currently developing within, within Genentech?
March Tessier Lavigne:
Yeah.
Fintan Walton :
Obviously, there is a great number of products that have been successfully gone through Genentech, and there " that are now been explored in new indications and so forth continuing the drive and rewards that Genentech started. What are the novel components of the pipeline now, which stars do you particularly wanted to point out to us?
March Tessier Lavigne:
Well, we again going back to cancersince it has been a major focus as Genentech is known for its cancer therapeutics, but I'd say you ain't seen nothing yet. We have a very rich pipeline going forward. I am very excited about our,armed antibody platform this is the, the " antibody -drug conjugates for cancer our lead therapeutic there is a conjugate of Herceptin-Trastuzumab with the toxin DM1 this is a collaboration [PharmaDeals ID = 31817] with ImmunoGen. And the idea there is for woman who have progressed on Herceptin that afterHerceptin is no longer able to suppress the signaling of its target HER2 that we can use it as a vehicle to deliver theDM1 toxin and we've seen tremendous efficacy in the clinic, that " that molecules now in Pivotal trials and it's the fore runner of a whole pipeline of armed antibodies for a variety of indications. And also very excited about our Hedgehog Antagonist that was very much in the press two-weeks ago when we published studies in the New England Journal of Medicine and Science on the initial clinical results, where we've seen in response to our experimental medicine GDC-0449 some dramatic tumor shrinkages and cancers that are driven by disregulation of the pathway that the drug targets. And that's also a fore runner of a whole new family of targeted therapeutics targeting key drivers of cancer that came to light in the late 90's and early 2000's and which we've been mining over the years, so those are the two major prongs.
Innovation and Genentech's involvement in adopting new breakthrough therapeutic approaches.
Fintan Walton :
Okay. Genentech obviously made its name going right back in adopting new technologies it did that obviously with, with molecular biology and Genentech engineering and did that with antibodies. There is a whole platter of new science developing from a therapeutic point of view particularly things like stem cells, science and so forth.
March Tessier Lavigne:
Yeah.
Fintan Walton :
How involved is Genentechon again in adopting new break through therapeutic approaches?
March Tessier Lavigne:
Right. So we, we try to stay abreast of developments and help drive developments. We believe that to be successful we have to be incorporating both the latest and the most promising technologies. We continue to innovate internally, for example we, we published a paper in science this year in which we, we showed that we can engineer antibodies to recognize not one " just one targets selectively, but two targets selectively something that " that came us a bit as a surprise to the community. So we continue, if you will to build our legacy of antibody and protein therapeutics at the same time we've invested in small molecules drug discovery technologies in a big way over the past several years. We remain abreast of developments for example in RNAi based therapeutics and also follow the stem cell field, also but at a bit of a distance. When we believe that the " we can either make a contribution or that the technology is necessary for our drug discovery programs then we enter and we, we don't hesitate to enter in a big way.
How he believes the company will go for development in the next 3-5 years.
Fintan Walton :
When you look over the next three to five-years let's say, and the work that you're doing at Genentech, what do you see -- do you see the same Genentech as we all know today or is it going to be steered in a totally new direction?
March Tessier Lavigne:
Well, I think one of the things that, that I " if I, I five-years now I hope I can look back and say we preserved the culture with, and the three prongs of the culture being science driven, focusing on patients, and being a great place to work that, that's what made Genentech successful over the past 30-years, it's what we intend to preserve as we go forward and we have the full backing of the Roche organization from the CEO, Severin Schwan on down to maintain that culture. So that I hope will not change, of course what we focus on, how we go about our business, we will change our circumstances dedicate. 10-years ago, 15-years ago Genentech was very much a bio-therapeutics company focused in an opportunistic way on potential protein and antibody targets, it morphed in the decade from 1995 to 2005 into a therapeutics company focusing on oncology first, immunology and so forth using any therapeutic modality that could actually work in those areas, and where we see additional shifts as we go forward, I hope so, I hope that we will retain that ability to adapt as the field evolves, and so I hope that five-years from now we'll be able to look back and say we preserved the core and what was essential and we've added what was also essential to the success of our business.
Fintan Walton :
March Tessier Lavigne, thank you very much indeed for coming on the show.
March Tessier Lavigne:
Thank you very much.
Marc Tessier Lavigne
Executive Vice President
I joined Genentech in 2003 as senior vice president, Research Drug Discovery, and in 2008 I was promoted to executive vice president. Following the Roche merger in 2009, I became executive vice president, Research, and chief scientific officer. As head of the Genentech research organization, I am responsible for directing all of our basic and disease research and drug discovery activities, and for ensuring a seamless transfer of our drug candidates to the clinical development organization. I also serve as a member ofGenentech's Executive Committee. Over the course of my career, my initial interest in basic biological processes grew into an equally strong interest in disease processes and in the medical applications of basic science. I came toGenentech because of its deep commitment to innovative research that has the potential to create breakthrough therapies for unmet medical needs. Genentech also has a vibrant and exciting scientific culture that fosters intellectual freedom." Current Projects "Much of our work has been on mechanisms of brain wiring and other basic problems in the developmental biology of tissue growth. Over the past several years, we have started to apply insights from these fields to the problem of brain rewiring and regeneration and, more recently, to neuronal degeneration in both embryonic development and in neurodegenerative disease. We have the best of both the academic and the corporate worlds here: we have the satisfaction of working on the development of novel therapeutics while we continue to elucidate basic biological processes. A key aspect of the Genentech culture that enables this is our postdoc program. In addition to overseeing translational and drug discovery work, I have eight postdocs working on open-ended projects. Like a university, Genentech believes it's important to have a steady stream of young people who tackle fundamental problems in basic and translational biology and who are ready to challenge assumptions." Inspiration/Vision "I like to grapple with complex biological problems and deconstruct their complexity. I feel the same way about disease as I felt about brain wiring when we started investigating it over 15 years ago: we can crack this. Not a week goes by that we don't derive some major new insight from research studies and clinical trials that give key insights into the biology of disease. I feel privileged to be a biomedical researcher at this particular juncture in history. Science and medicine converged at the dawn of the 21st century, making it possible to tackle disease processes with the same tools and the same rigor we use to address basic problems in biology. For a biologist, this is truly the golden age of translational research and drug discovery."
Genentech
Considered the founder of the biotechnology industry, Genentech has been delivering on the promise of biotechnology for more than 30 years, using human genetic information to discover, develop, manufacture and commercialize medicines to treat patients with serious or life-threatening medical conditions. Today, Genentech is among the world's leading biotech companies, with multiple products on the market for serious or life-threatening medical conditions, more than 100 projects in the pipeline and a long term plan for growth.