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Roche, Genentech researchers avoid business talk

Sep 23, 2011, 2:34 p.m.

By Ransdell Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) - When scientists at Genentech and parent Roche need to discuss business, they do not talk to each other -- they use lawyers.

Roche acquired the remaining stake of Genentech it did not already own in 2009, against the protests of critics who feared the cancer-drug powerhouse would lose the innovation prowess that made it the envy of the biotech world if it was absorbed by far-bigger Roche Holding AG.

But Roche research chief Jean-Jacques Garaud says the creative fires are burning as bright as ever at Genentech, which developed blockbuster cancer drugs Avastin and Herceptin, because it has been kept apart from Roche proper.

An estimated 2,500 scientists and research staff from Genentech work at its longtime campus in South San Francisco, in their own unit named gRED (Genentech Research and Early Development). They are charged with discovering drugs relating to cancer, immunology, neuroscience and infectious diseases.

In a seemingly parallel universe thousands of miles away in Europe, Shanghai and at a U.S. campus in New Jersey, Roche operates its own separate research unit with 3,000 researchers, called pRED (Pharma Research and Early Development), that specializes in the same disease areas and also is involved from drug discovery through mid-stage human trials.

"At the time we decided to bring Genentech on board it became obvious to us we had to keep separate the two units to keep the innovation alive," said Garaud, who heads pRED and its roster of Roche veterans.

"If you bring the units together, you contaminate each other -- you don't look at things differently. Innovation comes from groups looking at the same issue from different approaches. We want to have a diversity of approaches and maintain it," Garaud said in an interview.

"We talk to each other, but we don't talk about science too much. We talk about life -- books and movies."

Asked how the two units avoid duplicating research efforts if they do not talk business, he said that is where the attorneys come in.

"We are aware of duplication when it occurs because our patent lawyers are watching us and tell us if we are overlapping in activity -- if we are wasting resources on the same activity."

Garaud said it is too early to tell just how productive the respective research units will be, but noted that seven Roche drugs have progressed into late-stage trials since the Genentech deal.

"That is a strong success rate," he added.

(Reporting by Ransdell Pierson; editing by Andre Grenon)

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