|Sophie Kornowski-Bonnet, head of Roche partnering--Courtesy of Roche|
Over the past year John Reed has been tasked with engineering a turnaround at Roche's ($RHHBY) big pRED research organization, executing a string of new deals aimed at beefing up the Basel-based R&D group after the pharma giant triggered a top-to-bottom reorganization that included closing the group's storied complex in Nutley, NJ.
But they're not done yet. Reed and Sophie Kornowski-Bonnet, head of Roche partnering, tell FierceBiotech that with 36 molecules in development, they're looking for about 18 more programs over the next year or two to complete the pipeline overhaul. The two top Roche executives, in attendance at the J.P. Morgan conference in San Francisco, expect to get the boost from both internal research as well as external partnerships and buyouts. And Kornowski-Bonnet says they're willing to spend "up to a few billion, I suppose," for new deals that can add significant new therapies and technologies.
Reed and Kornowski-Bonnet's shopping spree has involved a considerable amount of globetrotting in the past year. In just the last few months they completed a deal with Santaris, executed a $600 million pact for a preclinical Parkinson's drug from Prothena (with a near-term milestone of $45 million), did a $1 billion-plus deal with Molecular Partners covering a novel delivery technology for cancer therapies and finalized a $560 million pact with Polyphor on a mid-stage antibiotic, taking them into a new field.
"If good science exists outside, we should bring it in," says Kornowski-Bonnet, whose team reviews about 2,500 deals a year, with over 100 "deep assessments" for the most promising assets. That's a significantly different game plan than James Sabry is pursuing for gRED, the legendary Genentech group which has been scoring a steady stream of major product approvals. At his end, Sabry is looking for a more select set of deals that can brought in and added to Genentech's considerable foundation of R&D. And he tells FierceBiotech that he tends to hunt up earlier-stage assets that often involve fairly modest upfront commitments.
On the pRED side, Reed says he is particularly keen to execute new partnerships on immunotherapy, the hot button tech in oncology. Researchers at the company have completed a review looking at the 7 steps involved in the way the human immune system comes into play against disease, and they're looking to fill any gaps that may exist at each step.
Kornowski-Bonnet concedes that the newly opened IPO window has helped boost valuations, making it more expensive to do a deal. But the two say they're ready to pay more for the best.
"I think prices are higher," says Kornowski-Bonnet. On the other hand, the pipeline at pRED has been expanded significantly already, so Roche will be particularly choosy about the new deals it strikes in 2014.