Small molecule chief named head of gRED in rejig at the top of Genentech

Richard Scheller

There has been a change at the top of gRED. Having shepherded Genentech's R&D operations through the takeover by Roche ($RHHBY), Richard Scheller will retire at the end of 2014. Roche has lined up Michael Varney, Genentech's head of small molecule drug discovery, to replace Scheller.

The rejig marks the first change at the top of Genentech Research and Early Development (gRED) since the early days of the Roche takeover, when the Swiss pharma fenced off the biotech's early-stage R&D from its own operations. Scheller--who was Genentech's chief scientific officer prior to the acquisition--was put in charge of the standalone R&D unit within one month of Roche closing the deal.

Under Scheller, gRED has propped up its parent company by delivering a string of cancer drugs--offset by the occasional failure such as MetMab--and developed promising candidates for diseases including age-related macular degeneration. Genentech even made a rare big-ticket deal, paying $725 million in cash--and agreeing to up to $1 billion in milestones--to takeover Seragon Pharmaceuticals and its breast cancer program.

Michael Varney

The challenge of realizing the promise of Seragon's science will now fall on Varney, who will take over as head of gRED in January. Varney is stepping up from his current position as head of small molecule drug discovery, a role he took in 2005. Back then, Genentech was just setting up its small molecule R&D operation. Now, it has named a man who has spent his career working on small molecules--first at Viracept developer Agouron Pharmaceuticals--as the head of its early-stage R&D operation.

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