Roche & Genentech: Get It Together

It's a new world.

Before Roche bought Genentech, stock-moving drug development milestones for DNA were closely followed by the news media, analysts and investors. But because the Swiss drugmaker Roche only trades over-the-counter in the U.S., the information isn't as "actionable" as it used to be when DNA was around.

Late yesterday, the FDA approved Avastin for brain cancer. The drug is now FDA-okayed to fight brain, colon, breast and lung tumors. Maybe you could argue that after a positive recommendation from an FDA panel for accelerated approval of Avastin for brain cancer that yesterday's news wasn't a surprise. But I was still struck by how little media play it got, as well as the way the two companies, apparently still in the process of integrating, went about announcing the fact that that for the first time in more than a decade a new brain cancer treatment had been cleared to go to market. Especially after the recent Avastin setback in the early-stage colon cancer study, you'd think that Roche would have been immediately trumpeting the news about the FDA's decision.

But here's what happened: Genentech put out a press release around 8 p.m. ET. Roche, which is headquartered in Switzerland but has a major base of operation here in Jersey, didn't issue a press release until five hours later! 1 a.m. ET. Genentech's press release is dated the 5th, Roche's the 6th.

Why would Roche sit on good news for so long? They knew that yesterday was the FDA's decision day, so I'm almost certain they had a press release ready to go at the push of a button. Maybe Roche wanted to extend a courtesy to Genentech and let the U.S. side of the new company take the lead and push out its release first. But a five hour lead time? That just doesn't make sense. And, besides, when you're part of one big happy family, do you really need the redundancy of two different press releases announcing the exact same thing? Roche's release used the "European spellings" of words like "tumour" and "authorisation." Nothing against that, but perhaps they could simply write one release with "American spellings" for here and another one for over there.

Analysts and corporate leaders often talk about the difficulty of putting together two big companies, especially when they're on different continents. Seems to me like Roche and Genentech may still be trying to find common ground.

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