Forget the Shortcuts: Creating a Truly Innovative Biotech Culture
Watching the acquisition of Genentech by Roche has been a fascinating process. I wasn’t so interested in the eventual price paid per share, but whether Basel, Switzerland-based Roche, one of the oldest and most traditional pharma companies, could preserve the special science-based culture at Genentech that made it the world’s pre-eminent biotech company. Would Genentech’s top scientists stay in the San Francisco Bay Area? Could Roche successfully integrate a free wheeling West Coast culture into an East Coast (and indeed, European based) organization?It will take time before this question will ultimately be answered. However, the signs are that Roche doesn’t want to mess things up.
This was illustrated by the recent stunning announcement from Roche that it was resigning from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the chief trade association and lobbying group of the US pharmaceutical industry, in order to join the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), the trade association for biotech. This announcement, coupled with the decision to move many of their scientific research programs from the East Coast to the West, told me that Roche was serious in their desire to remake their own culture in Genentech’s image. We’ll see over the next six months or so if Roche can hang on to Genentech’s key employees and culture, now that they have begun their restructuring of Genentech, including employee layoffs and buyouts.
If you are buying a research organization both for its novel drugs and the culture of innovation that created them, it makes sense to do what you can to preserve that culture. I discovered the cultural divide that separates pharma from biotech when I was first looking for a job in the industry. The contrast between pharma and biotech couldn’t have been more striking. A job interview at “Big Pharma” introduced me to scientists, dressed in jackets and ties, who spent most of their time devising new types of screening assays against which the company’s library of chemical compounds could be tested. In marked contrast to the scientists, lab assistants wore overalls with their names sewn on the front in a style that was strangely reminiscent of auto mechanics. If hired, I was told that I could spend as much as 20 percent of my time doing any research of my choosing, as long as my primary focus was on developing new screening assays. Promotions and long-term success at the company were based on your success … Next Page »