UPDATED: Google's Calico poaches Roche guru Barron to steer R&D

Calico R&D President Hal Barron

Google ($GOOG) made major waves two months ago when it landed former Genentech CEO Art Levinson to run its still-murky biotech offshoot, Calico. Now the biotech elder statesman is reuniting with his former chief medical officer, convincing Hal Barron to leave his post at Roche ($RHHBY) and oversee R&D at the nascent company.

Barron comes to Calico as president of R&D after a 17-year stint with Genentech that helped make eventual acquirer Roche the world's most successful oncology company. Barron started out at the company as a clinical scientist, working his way up to CMO and helping change the face of cancer drug development in the process.

Now, as he joins the ranks of the closely held Calico, it's unclear just what Barron will preside over. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were light on details in unveiling their healthcare effort, saying only that it would focus on the inescapable problem of aging. Considering Google's Big Data bent and long-standing support for pop-genetics outfit 23andMe, most figure Calico will take a genomics approach. 

Calico CEO Art Levinson

And while that covers the R, the D still remains a mystery, and Calico has never specified whether it plans to develop drugs, devices or any other tangible objects. Page has said the company will do some "longer-term, moonshot thinking," and Levinson has the vague goal of tackling "the challenge of staying youthful, healthy and disease-free for a longer time." Calico still doesn't have a website, and, like Page's September announcement of the company's formation, the latest bit of news came not from a press release but a posting on Google Plus, Google's social network.

That said, with Google signing the checks and minds like Levinson and Barron steering the ship, Calico will make waves in the biotech world no matter what it decides to do, and the two former Genentechers may not be the last biotech luminaries to jump ship for a chance to innovate.

For now, Calico is also fleshing out its staff with Princeton genomics professor David Botstein, who will serve as chief scientific officer; Genentech researcher Bob Cohen, who will be a "Calico fellow;" and University of California, San Francisco oncology professor Cynthia Kenyon, who will join as a senior scientific adviser on a part-time basis.

As for Barron, Roche said he will finish out the year in his current role and then stick around part-time, remaining on the company's late-stage portfolio committee and serving on Genentech's board.

"We thank Hal for his numerous and significant contributions to the success of Genentech and Roche to date and look forward to his continued significant involvement in the company," the company said in a statement. "A new head of global product development and chief medical officer will be announced in due course."

- read Levinson's post

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