Roche Speaks My Language But Genentech Not So Much


As investors, the industry and the media wait to see how or if the Roche offer for Genentech will play out, there's an interesting micro-study in contrasts between the two companies in fraternal-twin press releases that came out this morning--especially for all of the PR-types who I know read this blog.

In my reporting, I always try to keep it simple. Particularly in the middle of the credit crisis, too much financial jargon goes over the heads of most people. The same can be said for biopharma coverage. The challenge for reporters is to make the stuff comprehensible for readers, viewers and listeners. But I think it's also incumbent on corporate communications folks to try to communicate in plain English.

So, this morning, partners Roche and Genentech issued separate press releases on positive test results on their drug Rituxan for a form of leukemia. DNA also shares Rituxan with Biogen Idec. Genentech's release reads like this: "Rituxan in combination with fludarabine and cyclophosphamide chemotherapy met its primary endpoint of improving progression-free survival, as assessed by investigators, in patients with previously treated CD-20-positive chronic lymphocytic leukemia compared to chemotherapy alone." Come again?

    • Rituxan meets goal in late stage leukemia trial

Fortunately, someone at Roche found a clearer, more succinct way to put it. "Patients treated with (Rituxan) in combination with current standard chemotherapy were able to significantly extend the amount of time they lived without their disease progressing, compared to patients treated with chemotherapy alone." That's pretty close to how I would've written it for presentation on CNBC.

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I suspect that oftentimes the scientists and lawyers have too much of a hand in writing this stuff. Let communications people communicate. There's a way to balance the rigors of the law and medicine without getting so bogged down in arcane language that is only decipherable by experts, doctors and analysts. In the news biz, it's called, "dumbing it down." And I don't mean that in a bad or offensive way. It can actually be helpful.

Eli Lilly's press release yesterday about the ImClone deal said, "The transaction is not subject to any financing condition...." I was mistaken to interpret that to mean no financing was needed. LLY is going to finance part of the all-cash deal with debt. In my interview with CEO John Lechleiter on "Squawk Box" Monday he said, "We're very confident in our ability to finance this deal."

Questions? Comments?