Bill Anderson, CEO of Roche Pharma, smiling and surrounded by people

“A broken world needs examples of a better way”

Published 24 June 2020

Roche Pharma CEO Bill Anderson talks about learnings during lockdown and how the pandemic has changed our perspective.

What moments do you enjoy most these days?
Like many people I'm taking more walks than ever before, and I've had some nice ones with my wife, Cathy.

What made you laugh recently?
Well, I laughed pretty hard when Cathy and I got our negative COVID-19 antibody tests. We were so convinced we were sick back in March, and I've never been so disappointed not to have been sick.

How do you keep fit?
I enjoy running, hiking and biking. In fact, I ordered a new tandem bike for Cathy and me – I'm sure it will enhance teamwork.

I assume it's an E-bike?
Oh no, we're not cheaters (laughs). It's the old-fashioned kind.

Do you have a message for those who are struggling?
The events of 2020 have placed a tremendous burden on so many people. Regarding COVID-19, I would reassure them that our colleagues across the industry and scientists around the world are working hard to overcome this. I'm really excited by the fast progress that we and our community are making on therapeutics, on vaccines, on diagnosis. We're going to beat this thing, and we're going to beat it in months, not years.

Is there anything good that can come out of this?
Times like these upset everyone's routine and make people stop and think. Hopefully a lot of people will have more thoughts about what's really important in life, about what they're doing and why they're doing it – and to make every day count.

Does the pandemic help you to focus more on what is essential?
For me it's been more about the pace. The world can't wait for better therapies for COVID-19 – or any other disease for that matter. We’ve made incredible efforts to advance treatment and diagnostics for COVID-19 and many other medicines in such a short time. So my main takeaway is: let's keep it up! Let's remind ourselves how much faster we can move.

Hopefully a lot of people will have more thoughts about what's really important in life”
Bill Anderson

From a COVID-19 perspective, what has our industry learnt?
What I've observed recently, and been reminded of, is the importance of both randomised controlled studies and real world evidence, but each in their proper place (learn more about clinical trials). Across the world there have been a lot of single arm studies run with many medicines – and the learnings have been limited. We need focus and we really need randomised controlled studies on efficacy against the virus. And that has been a tough lesson for society and those that ran them.

Do you think the perception of our industry is changing?
I think it's a big reminder that we're all very reliant on continued progress in medical innovation and the world desperately needs a vibrant pharmaceutical industry to continue medical progress.

How will current experiences, COVID and other, change our perspective?
A broken world needs examples of a better way. One place to start is where we spend most of our waking hours: at work. We can redouble our efforts to include everyone at work – to ensure that every member of the team feels like this is their place, their company, their work home. I'm committed to working with everyone at Roche to make a more inclusive and diverse workplace and world.

Is there anything that you miss and look forward to?
Well, one thing I miss a lot is seeing our kids. We have a daughter in Singapore and we don't know when we will be able to see her in person next due to travel restrictions. For now we're spending a lot of time visiting virtually.

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Tags: Society, Culture