Roche slipped from second to fifth place in this year’s ranking of the world’s top pharmaceutical companies, reported uninspiring numbers for the first half of the year and seen its long-time CEO resign. But make no mistake: the Swiss giant is carefully guarding its position as one of the world’s top drugmakers, maintaining its R&D spending and pursuing an aggressive M&A strategy


Roche saw one of the biggest drops with respect to last year’s Pharma Exec ranking of the top 50 global pharma companies, going from second to fifth place. Moreover, for the first half of 2022 the company’s pharma division is still pushing to recover from biosimilar competition with the uptake of drugs like Hemlibra, Ocrevus, Evrysdi, Phesgo and Tecentriq and saw only three percent growth. All of this after the Basel-based company’s long-running CEO, Severin Schwann, stepped down in July.


While this may not look promising, Roche is hanging on to its position at the forefront of R&D with 14 new molecular entities in late-stage trials and a spend of USD 13.1 billion in research last year. After completing the repurchase of its shares held by rival Novartis last year, the company is also pursuing an aggressive M&A strategy and in so doing bolstering its prospects in immuno-oncology and betting on newer areas like cell therapies.


In the latest of a series of big deals this year, Roche has acquired the Seattle-based biotech, Good Therapeutics, with its preclinical PD-1-regulated IL-2 program for USD 250 million to reinforce its immuno-oncology efforts. The program is set to deliver potent IL-2 stimulation of T cells without the toxicity and according to Roche, has demonstrated excellent in vitro and in vivo data. Thanks to the blockbuster PD-L1 drug, Tecentriq, Roche is already a contender in the checkpoint inhibitor space.


Again in oncology, Roche and Genentech partnered with Chinese pharma company, Jemincare, a month earlier to push forward a new program for prostate cancer with Roche fronting USD 60 million. And in another agreement through its Genentech unit, the company secured a global license for an antibody that targets oncostatin M receptor beta from Kiniksa for USD 80 million upfront.


Another bold move saw the Swiss pharma company front a total of USD 110 million to Poseida Therapeutics for its allogeneic CAR-T programs. These programs will expand Roche’s cell therapies territory, one it was late to enter but where it has already teamed up with Adaptive Biotechnologies and Adaptimmune. The Poseida deal gives the company access to candidates that hit the same targets as approved CAR-T therapies like Johnson & Johnson’s Carvykti and Gilead’s Yescarta.