PharmExec Blog

What a Week! Roche and Genentech … and Mirus!?!

The big news this week—and, for that matter, this year—is Roche’s offer to buy the 44 percent of Genentech that it doesn’t already own. The blogosphere is burning with all the predictable predictions, dire and otherwise, attendant on a big pharma takeover of a biotech. The phrase “killing the goose that’s been laying the golden egg” is used a lot—notwithstanding Roche’s 20-year record of respecting Genentech’s culture and talent with a hands-off approach to partnership.

The low-ball $43.7 billion buyout offer was made late Sunday night. Although widely viewed as a fait accompli, by Friday the Wall Street Journal’s Health Blog was reporting that “it sounds like Genentech may put up a fight.” 

Even more interesting, TheStreet.com’s Adam Feuerstein was floating the prospect of Genentech, backed by private equity, making its own hostile bid for Roche. “If I were [Genentech CEO Arthur] Levinson, I’d get in the face of [Roche Chairman Franz] Humer and tell him, ‘You don’t buy us, we’ll buy you, punk’” is how one analyst put it.

Everyone loves a good fight. But lost in the breaking story was the news on Tuesday of another Roche acquisition. The Swiss drug giant paid $125 million for a little biotech in Madison, Wisconsin, called Mirus Bio, the maker of a systemic delivery technology for RNA interruption therapeutics. Called Dynamic PolyConjugates (DPC), these tiny transporters are amazingly target specific—they seem able to enter a single cell and dump their payload without apparent spillover.

An effective, efficient delivery system is the Gorgon blocking the road to RNAi drug development, and the Mirus purchase indicates that Roche is up for the challenge. Pharm Exec spoke to Louis Renzetti, Roche’s global head of RNAi therapeutics, to find out what’s cooking.

All of a sudden, Roche is a leading player in the RNAi space. How did that happen?
We’re serious about the further evolution of medicine—especially better efficacy in more people and gaining better control of some serious diseases. And whenever we were looking at emerging technologies, RNA interference always came to the top of the list.
But we knew that if we were going to get into this, we had to make a very real and focused commitment. We began investing a year ago, and that’s how we ended up with our [$1 billion milestone] deal with Alnylam [for an IP license] and acquisition of its European RNAi research site.

Why Mirus Bio?
Mirus offers us two things: a really cool technology and a team of scientists with deep know-how. They addressed the delivery problem almost from a virus approach and developed DPC technology, which selects a particular cell—much like an antibody—and gives nearly 100 percent gene knockdown.

So this week it’s Genentech and Mirus. What’s on the shopping list for next week?
Well, we’re developing a global RNAi network of scientists—we have the Madison site, the Center of Excellence in RNAi Therapeutics in Germany, as well as labs in Nutley, New Jersey, and Basel, Switzerland. We have efforts going on using proteins as a delivery technique. We all agree that there’s probably not going to be a one-size-fits-all approach because these are complex diseases and we’re looking at knocking down multiple genes and different genes in the same population.
This is all part of Roche’s ongoing drive toward personalized medicine. Our diagnostics division can help identify biomarkers and pathways. Genentech has deep expertise in oncology and immunology, and we expect there to be synergy between monoclonal antibodies and RNAi.
We believe in this area as a therapeutic. We want to turn RNAi into drugs.

For more on how Roche is rockin’ RNAi therapeutics—and why they may leave Merck and Pfizer in the dust—read Dirk Haussecker’s blog here.

This entry was posted in Biotech, Deals, Gene therapy, R&D, Strategy, Technology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

One Comment

  1. Posted July 26, 2008 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    As has been widely commented across the Web, the key to Roche’s recent shopping spree will be the eventual integration of all these ‘new toys’ into the Roche sandbox. Mirus, Genentech and let’s not forget Ventana Medical Systems. Roche has never before (in my opinion) taken on such a vast & complicated talent integration project.

    What will happen to their culture as a result? And, much, much more importantly: will their new investment in people from these fantastic, performance-driven organizations adopt & thrive within the One Roche environment?

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