Sandra Horning, Roche/Genentech

Sandra Horning
Improving cancer treatment with targeted therapies

Company: Roche/Genentech
Title: Executive Vice President, Global Development and Chief Medical Officer

When Roche's ($RHHBY) R&D boss, Hal Barron, headed to Google's Calico at the beginning of the year, the Swiss pharma giant wasted no time finding a replacement. Roche looked to its own ranks to fill the post, tapping Genentech's Sandra Horning to serve as chief medical officer and head of global product development. Previously, she served as head of clinical development for the drugmaker's oncology and hematology businesses.

Horning joined Genentech in 2009 at a pivotal juncture, just in time for Roche's $47 billion buyout. As a tenured professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, Horning spent 25 years as a practicing oncologist, investigator and professor before her move to Genentech.

A leader in the oncology community, Horning served as president of ASCO in 2005-2006 and has been the chair of the Lymphoma Committee of the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG) since 1995. Horning has made significant contributions to the classification, understanding and treatment of lymphoma, and, as a previous cancer patient herself, she brings a highly educated and compassionate perspective to her job at Roche.

In 1996, not long after the annual ASCO meeting, Horning was diagnosed with breast cancer. For the next year, she went through radiation and chemotherapy, and she said she gained a new perspective on cancer. She said her diagnosis taught her what years of clinical training and experience would never have been able to--how cancer affects an individual and that person's family.

"After my experience with breast cancer, I chose to go where I felt I could have the biggest impact on fighting cancer and rejoin some of the smartest people I had worked with in my academic career," Horning told FierceBiotech.

That place was Genentech, where Horning was especially drawn to the biotech's work on targeted therapy combinations to replace chemotherapy that could improve patients' survival rates and make a difference in their quality of life.

"I am able to work on experimental treatments with this potential," Horning said.

That passion has paid off, and during her time with Genentech, she helped steer development of the cancer drugs Zelboraf, Erivedge, Perjeta, Kadcyla and Gazyva.

Horning's success comes from having a wide and personal background with cancer: from the academic and investigative side, to taking care of patients and their families as an oncologist, and from being a caregiver for both of her parents during their cancer battles to being a patient herself.

"Each of these roles has given me a unique way of looking at the challenges involved with conquering serious illness, and each viewpoint is essential to navigating today's increasingly complex healthcare environment. My understanding of the challenges and motivations for stakeholders involved in medicine helps focus my passion for improving patient care and commitment to following the science and excellence in drug development," Horning said.

Horning is using that experience to help grow Roche's oncology portfolio. Specifically, one of Horning's biggest priorities is to identify and prioritize the most scientifically compelling combination therapies to combat cancer treatment resistance.

Horning said Roche is continuing full speed ahead in the area of cancer immunotherapy, but challenges remain in developing cancer drugs, such as trial design and integrated biomarker development.

"I am particularly enthusiastic about the possibility that targeted combinations could both improve outcomes and free patients from the toxic side effects of chemotherapy. In hematologic cancers and HER2 breast cancer, we are making progress toward that goal today," Horning said.

As for women in the biopharma industry, Horning said there's no better time to be in the field.

"This is a wonderful time for female leaders in the biopharma industry to embrace and model diversity and inclusion of all kinds, which we know leads to better business performance as well as enriching the culture, providing greater individual opportunity, and increasing the joy of working for all," she said.

For more:
Roche's Genentech triggers its PhIII program for blockbuster AMD contender
Roche and Exelixis herald a Phase III victory for their melanoma combo
Roche picks a new R&D boss as Barron ships out for Google

-- Emily Mullin (email | Twitter)

Sandra Horning, Roche/Genentech