Does Roche need a biotech brain in the chairman's office?

It looks like Roche's top two picks for the role of chairman--both execs from the multinational field--have taken a pass on the job. And that has left at least a couple of prominent biotech vets in the mix of possible candidates.

Back when it became apparent that the pharma giant ($RHHBY) was rustling up a list of possible candidates, Art Levinson's name quickly became a hot prospect on Twitter. The legendary Genentech CEO--bumped up to chairman after the takeover--created a company that currently stands as Roche's primary new product engine, especially as the pRED arm based in Switzerland regroups following key clinical failures.

Just the ticket? Too radical, sums up an anonymous board source, according to Reuters. Roche, after all, is based in the buttoned-down world of Basel. Levinson's style was always unbuttoned West Coast. And a complete San Francisco culture coup evidently does not sit well with the Swiss.

George Scangos, the turnaround chief at Biogen Idec ($BIIB), came up as a possibility. Lucas Schellenberg, managing partner at executive recruitment firm Stanton Chase International in Switzerland, suggested it could be a good fit--if not for Scangos' unfortunate U.S. citizenship and his age--a ripe 65.

Then the Reuters list veers back to Big Business. 

"The new chairman will have to put a focus on the long-term perspective, on where the industry is going to be in the next 10-15 years and ask how can Roche still be in the driving seat," Fabian Wenner, an analyst at Kepler Cheuvreux, tells the news wire. Roche also needs to expand beyond oncology, which it has been struggling to accomplish.

Clearly the chairman's selection represents a battle of sorts for the soul of the company. For Roche, which likes to think of itself as a biotech company, there will be no better time to show its true colors.

- here's the Reuters story

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