Daniel O'Day - Roche

Singing the praises of diagnostics in the brave new R&D world

Name: Daniel O'Day
Title: COO, Roche

Roche CEO Severin Schwan revealed a stunning figure to investors last fall: More than 60% of the company's pipeline drugs will come paired with companion diagnostics. And Dan O'Day has played an instrumental role in making that happen. The newly minted COO of Roche's pharma division most recently ran the company's diagnostics arm. While there, he promoted the power of molecular diagnostics and their potential, paired with targeted treatments, to propel personalized medicine forward. That alone makes O'Day an influential leader in biotech. But in 26 years at Roche ($RHHBY), he's long pushed hard to weave diagnostics more closely into patient care.

"Diagnostics are a huge part of the solution of the healthcare crisis around the world, and they are still unsung heroes," O'Day told FierceBiotech in a recent telephone interview. "They deserve a lot more recognition and also rewards. [They present] tremendous opportunity to improve healthcare in patients."

O'Day, who has been in his new role since August, gained earlier experience in Roche's pharmaceutical business through various leadership positions. As Roche's diagnostics head, one of his earliest mandates involved integrating tissue diagnostics company Ventana Medical Systems into Roche's professional diagnostics arm after its $3.4 billion acquisition in 2008. One year later, Roche grabbed biotech Genentech for $46.8 billion. Both helped kick the personalized medicine effort at the company into high gear, O'Day recalled.

"I did a lot of work on the diagnostics side to make sure we had systems in place for our scientists to work closely together and then bring companion diagnostics alongside pharmaceutical development programs and bring them to the marketplace," O'Day told us.

O'Day's role now is to pursue that partnership even further, this time from the pharma side. That's not always an easy job. Pharmaceutical and diagnostics professionals speak a slightly different language, as he puts it (although he sees the diagnostics "language" he has learned as crucial to helping). In no small part due to O'Day's influence, those efforts now go well beyond the company's blockbuster breast cancer drug Herceptin, whose companion diagnostic is meant to spot patients with HER2-positive tumors and would benefit most from the treatment.

Beyond the 60% figure we mentioned earlier, O'Day notes that Roche is now pursuing 200 companion diagnostics projects in its overall drug portfolio, focused on areas including schizophrenia, Alzheimer's and late-stage asthma.

-- Mark Hollmer (email | Twitter)

Daniel O'Day - Roche