Roche to maintain lead in targeted drugs

Wed Aug 31, 2011 11:38am EDT
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By Katie Reid

BASEL (Reuters) - Roche ROG.VX expects a new generation of drugs targeted at specific groups of patients to make up half its portfolio in 10 years, a shift that is pushing the boundaries of modern medicine.

In an interview, Roche Chief Executive Severin Schwan compared advances in molecular biology that are improving understanding of how cells work to the revolution in medicine several centuries ago when doctors first started opening up patients' bodies.

"In 10 years we would see half of our portfolio to be targeted therapies. And if anything, I would assume in 20 years this percentage is going to increase," Schwan told Reuters.

Roche, the world's largest maker of cancer drugs, leads the pack in targeted therapies thanks in part to its closely integrated diagnostics arm that helps its pharma division pinpoint the gene mutations its drugs should zero in on.

Its 5.4 billion Swiss franc ($6.6 billion) breast cancer drug Herceptin broke new ground in the field a decade ago as a drug designed to treat only women who make too much of the HER2 protein, around 20 percent of sufferers.

Half of the products in Roche's late-stage pipeline already have companion diagnostics -- tests that determine if the patients are a genetic fit with the therapies.

Schwan, who took over as head of Roche in 2008 after leading its diagnostics unit for nearly two years, believes the diagnostics-pharma combination will give the company an edge for years to come as the model is hard for rivals to copy.

"We believe that by having it integrated at a very, very early stage, we have a competitive edge," Schwan said at Roche's elegant 1930s headquarters on the banks of the Rhine.   Continued...

<p>Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche CEO Severin Schwan attends an interview with Reuters at the company's headquarters in Basel, August 30, 2011. Picture taken August 30, 2011. To match interview ROCHE/ REUTERS/Christian Hartmann</p>