At Roche, ex-airline boss Franz promises continuity

Tue Mar 4, 2014 10:21am EST
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By Caroline Copley

BASEL (Reuters) - Outgoing Lufthansa (LHAG.DE: Quote) boss Christoph Franz vowed to keep Roche ROG.VX on its current course after shareholders overwhelmingly elected him as chairman of the Swiss drugmaker.

The 53-year-old is taking over as non-executive chairman of the world's largest drugmaker by market capitalization from Franz Humer who is stepping down after 16 years as CEO and chairman.

"One thing has become clear today. This company is on track and therefore continuity (...) is the order of the day," Franz said on Tuesday, after 99.8 percent of shareholders approved his election.

"We are the innovation drivers in our industry but we cannot rest on our laurels. We have to look into the future and shape our successes for the next few years," he added.

Franz, who implemented a tough cost-cutting programme at the German airline that was met with ire from trade unions, is inheriting a company at the top of its game. Roche boasts an enviable list of high-margin new cancer drugs, a well-stocked pipeline and bumper profit margins.

Still, in the mid-term, the company's margins and profits could come under pressure, as more drugmakers crowd into the hot area of cancer research and encroach on Roche's dominance.

This puts pressure on Roche to move into a new therapeutic area, having had a string of failures with medicines to treat cardiovascular disease, diabetes and schizophrenia.

On Monday, it halted a late-stage study into its experimental lung cancer drug MetMab, because it failed to help people with the disease.   Continued...

Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche outgoing chairman Franz Humer speaks to shareholders during the annual general meeting in Basel March 4, 2014. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich