Perspectives on cancer research in Roche and beyond

Taking a stand against cancer

An interview with Christian Rommel, Global Head of pRED Oncology

Published 16 September 2019

At Roche Pharma Research and Early Development (pRED) Oncology we discover the future of cancer care. By bridging the biology of cancer with the science of medicine, we prioritise our best scientific discoveries, to bring innovation from the lab to the clinic as quickly, effectively and safely as possible, so that patients can benefit from these transformative medicines when they need them.

We spoke with Christian Rommel, our Global Head of pRED Oncology, about our pioneering efforts in the area of cancer research and early clinical development. Read what he has to say below and watch him here.

Transforming how we treat cancer

Through his work leading the cancer research team at Roche, Christian Rommel is clear on the purpose of the organisation to focus on research areas that will make a profound impact, addressing high unmet needs in cancer, particularly where patients have limited treatment options, or where treatment choices simply don’t exist. From a purely scientific point of view, early oncology research is a fascinating and rapidly changing area. Cancer results from genetic alterations (mutations), and even small genetic changes can have a profound outcome on human biology, and whilst we have learnt so much about the biology of cancer, there is so much more to come.

Cancer is an extraordinary disease, and working in cancer research offers many opportunities to truly make an impact on the lives of patients. All those who work in cancer research have a sincere commitment to want to make an impact on this disease. ”
Christian Rommel, Global Head of pRED Oncology

Right now we are seeing great momentum in cancer research, the science has never been more insightful and inspiring. The convergence of science and technology means we are in a very powerful place at the moment, and making the most of these developments will help advance many areas in cancer research, such as patient genetic molecular profiling linked to immune phenotyping, identifying new therapeutic modalities or strategies, and delivery of innovative clinical trial designs. Since he has been working in oncology research, Christian has seen first-hand how cancer immunotherapy has opened up a totally new horizon for how we can provide more personalised medicines to patients, and how such innovation can inspire new thinking, new investment and renewed commitment. What will be important is pursuing innovation and taking risks, in order to make the profound changes we want to see.

A focused approach in early cancer research and development

Roche’s approach to cancer research focuses on following the science. This way we can truly understand the biology behind the disease; an approach that has allowed us to dramatically diversify the range of therapeutic solutions over recent years in our portfolio. Only a decade ago, we were limited to small molecules or antibody based protein therapeutics (also referred to as large molecules). Since then our own, and others, work in cancer research has helped pioneer a great expansion in molecule design, and today our chemists and protein engineers are able to make more diverse, complex molecules and able to engage and tap into much more of the complexity of human cancer biology than ever before.

Our cancer research strategy is focused on discovering and developing step-change innovations in two areas: cancer-immunotherapy and cancer cell-targeted therapy. To achieve this our cancer research teams combine laboratory work, translational research and clinical proof of concept. Covering the full chain of early research and development allows us to bring the patient perspective in as early as possible and be more agile and faster in developing new medicines that have the potential of making a real impact. One important aspect for driving productivity and innovation in cancer research is that our scientists can pursue disease biology across different technologies in a treatment modality independent manner, be it small molecules, large molecules, novel chemistry, or even targeted radio-therapy and cell-based approaches.

What excites me is how we are now looking to hit the cancer directly from both a genetic point of view and by engaging with the patients’ immune system, and it is this focus on the disease biology and our strategic commitment to meeting patient needs, that I am proud of. ”

The importance of collaboration and partnership in advancing cancer research

Cancer research is such a vast discipline, that partnering with external companies and academia is a cornerstone of our research strategy to help transform novel ideas into medicines. We fully recognise the value in placing an emphasis on collaboration and partnerships with leading scientists and experts both from within the Roche community and outside it. By working together we will be able to broaden the progress in cancer research more quickly, and over the next decade make the impact for patients that is needed and aspired to by all scientists and clinicians.

Innovation does not recognise geographical boundaries or different time zones, we need to promote fair partnership and collaboration that benefits all, making the most of the enormous opportunity that co-creation offers. ”

To find out more about partnering with pRED Oncology click here.

Being a part of pRED Oncology – being a part of the future of cancer research

A key aspect of life at Roche is that people have a strong sense of identity and pride in its oncology heritage. Being a leader in this area of research does not come without taking risks, and at Roche we have seen a lot of ‘firsts’ where the therapeutic breakthroughs and innovations have truly advanced cancer care. Roche continues to be granted FDA Breakthrough Designations, designed to expedite the development and review of the most promising molecules intended to treat serious or life-threatening diseases, for new indications and treatment modalities across a number of solid tumours as well as haematologic cancers. Our mission depends not only on having the right resources and our internal expertise, but we are constantly looking for new talent with the most creative minds to join the team, and come together with a shared purpose to discover the future of cancer care.

Everyone wants you to succeed in the field of cancer research, so it’s a very unique space to be able to work in – a privilege as much as a responsibility. Having the opportunity to collaborate with creative, passionate and highly dedicated scientists on discovering ‘better and kinder’ cancer treatment solutions is what drives me the most. ”

To find out more about the jobs available at pRED Oncology click here.


Tags: Science, Innovation