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Fierce JPM Week: Bayer’s new R&D chief wants to push past Aspirin legacy with innovation

January 23, 2022
Life sciences

Christian Rommel, Ph.D., wants to push past Bayer’s legacy—which includes medicine cabinet staple Aspirin—and “really reinvent R&D” at the 150-year old pharmaceutical giant.

“We all agree we don’t want to give the presence to the past, right? So we want to look ahead and shape and invest in innovation,” Rommel, global head of R&D at the pharma, said in a recorded interview as part of Fierce JPM Week, held virtually Jan. 18 to 20.

Rommel, the former Roche oncology leader who joined Bayer early in 2021, has built out a team to help execute on his vision for reshaping Bayer’s pipeline and has played a hand in “arms-length” acquisitions of biotechs that aim to deliver on new technologies for the storied company. One such management move was scouting Christoph Koenen as global head of clinical development and operations from Otsuka Pharmaceutical, where he was chief medical officer, in November.

Speaking ahead of JPM, Rommel said he was excited to see whether he and his colleagues could identify more opportunities to build out Bayer’s pipeline after the $1.5 billion purchase of Vividion last August.

He cautioned that a deal isn’t guaranteed, though, as Bayer’s string of acquisitions over the past few years—radiotherapeutics biotech Noria, gene therapy player AskBio and cell therapy startup BlueRock—will take center stage in the pharma’s pipeline evolution.

“For now, we also have to be reflective and make our investments work, and extract the most value and maintain, especially, these arm lengths,” Rommel said. “That keeps us busy for some time. And we don’t have a blueprint for this, so we want to really learn from the experience before we would add more of those.”

Bayer hopes some of the recent acquisitions will bear fruit in the form of clinical data this year with gene and cell therapy updates from AskBio and BlueRock expected. This includes early-stage tests in Parkinson’s and other rare diseases.

Those results “will, of course, be very pivotal to us to show that the investment in such innovative therapeutic approaches give us a perspective in our innovation strategy,” Rommel said.

For Rommel and his team to make a leap into reinventing a century-old giant, they’ll need those bolt-on acquisitions and other new ways of thinking and developing treatments.

“This is the first time in the history of mankind I think we can really say we are at the doorsteps to unmask, to discover the underlying biology of human diseases in such a comprehensive, precise way,” he said, noting access to genomic profiling, human genetics, data at scale, AI and more.

by Kyle LaHucik


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