Roche promotes Pao to replace departing pRED head Reed

John Reed. (Image: Roche)

John Reed, M.D., Ph.D. is leaving Roche for personal reasons. William Pao, M.D., Ph.D. has stepped up to fill the head of Roche pharma research and early development (pRED) post vacated by Reed.

The changeover will see Reed leave Roche and Basel, Switzerland, at the start of next month to return to the U.S. Roche is promoting Pao, who currently heads up oncology discovery and translational research at pRED, to replace the departing executive.

Pao arrived at Roche in 2014, the year after Reed, and took a similar path into drug development. Both men came to Roche as physician-scientists who had spent their careers prior to that outside of the biopharma industry. Pao’s last stops before joining Roche were the personalized cancer medicine unit of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and the oncology department of Vanderbilt University. 

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Reed arrived at pRED in 2013, at which time Roche’s R&D group was reeling from reorganizations and coming to terms with the failures of once-hyped programs. Under Reed, Roche continued to invest heavily in R&D, putting its faith in internal research groups to deliver rather than plumping for quick fix M&A. And it largely eschewed the reorganizations that disrupted its flow before Reed arrived. 

The payoff from this period of stability and investment is yet to arrive but it may be that the fruits of Reed’s reign land after his departure, such is the lag between research and approval. Slow-starting Rituxan follow-up Gazyva is the highest-profile pRED drug to win approval since Reed arrived. But in T-cell bispecific CEA-TCB, MDM2 antagonist idasanutlin and other drugs, Roche has a pipeline of pRED prospects that are causing excitement inside the company and beyond.

Some see Reed as the catalyst for the turnaround.

“The effectiveness of Roche R&D in Switzerland has been transformed by Reed,” a fund manager with a stake in Roche told Reuters late last year. “I am quite optimistic about Swiss R&D starting to produce new drugs.”

Roche has now entrusted Pao to continue the work started by Reed. In picking Pao as the successor, Roche has reiterated the importance of cancer immunotherapies and molecularly targeted drugs to its pRED strategy.