Roche Bucks the Trend, with Early-Stage Deals
Unlike many of its Big Pharma brethren, for Roche, preclinical and Phase I licensing has been a favored deal-making formula: collaborate with a small company on the development of a compound at or before clinical proof-of-concept, drive the program using its development expertise, and retain rights to follow-on products with which it can repeat the process, presumably having now lowered both compound and clinical risk. Its deal with Kosan is the latest example.
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Partnering is a must for every drug firm these days. But Roche's reputation as a committed, yet hands-off development partner--forged in its relationship with Genentech--still sets it apart. Critics accuse the Swiss group of using partners to fill the gap in its own R&D; indeed, much of Roche's recent growth has come from others' drugs. Roche executives argue that you can't spot winners outside without a strong internal engine; that engine remains unproven. But point isn't whether Roche's own R&D is strong or weak. The point is, does it matter?
Roche could easily have swallowed cash-poor Antisoma whole. But the Swiss group has instead bought rights to the UK biotech's entire clinical portfolio, hoping thereby to preserve Antisoma's creativity--rather like it has done with Genentech.
The earnest tone of the discussions at this year's Pharmaceutical Strategic Alliances Conference reflected an increasingly common assumption among industry executives and insiders: the drug industry's growth problem isn't a merely cyclical issue. Declining productivity, a problem evident in biotech companies as well as Big Pharma, is to blame. Industry executives provided mixed opinions on how to best tackle this challenge, but both Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb suggested a trend towards early-stage compound licensing.