Roche will create five Disease Biology Areas (DBAs) for oncology, virology, inflammation, metabolism and central nervous system, which will cover everything from drug discovery through to medical proof of concept, with oversight through to the market. Each DBA will have its own leadership team and be located at one of three Roche sites: Basel, Switzerland; Nutley, US; or Palo Alto, US.
The move is another example of a big pharmaceutical company restructuring its business as a result of challenges currently confronting the industry in terms of patent expirations leading to increased generic competition and declining research productivity.
As research and development (R&D) costs soar and the process becomes increasingly complex, the restructure aims to simplify the drug discovery process. This can make it more efficient and allow new development projects to be integrated more quickly. The decision mirrors that of Pfizer, which last month announced its own R&D simplification.
The difference is that Pfizer also announced job cuts (although mostly not from its R&D staff), up to five R&D site closures and an increasing reliance on outsourcing and in-licensing, whereas Roche says it expects to increase R&D staff numbers and budget - currently $4.8bn (€3.7bn) a year.
"We're taking the opportunity to refocus at a time of economic strength on the challenges that lie ahead," said William Burns, CEO of Roche Pharmaceuticals division.
"New structures and flatter hierarchies will enable us to be more aligned and focused, take decisions faster, implement ideas more rapidly, and bring new products through the pipeline."
At Pfizer, scientists focused on a given therapeutic category are being moved to one of four major sites. Each one will be led by a single leader with more responsibility, authority and accountability. The pharma giant will also stop drug discovery programmes in gastroenterology and dermatology.
"Our simplified structure will help drive the growth of our expanding pipeline -- including our goal to deliver four new internally generated products per year by 2011 -- while maintaining current R&D investment levels," said Dr John LaMattina, head of Pfizer Global Research and Development.
"This will give us the 'best of both worlds' - the entrepreneurial spirit of a small company, aligned with the world-class technologies, platforms and capabilities that only a company of Pfizer's size can provide."
AstraZeneca has also recently announced job cuts representing nearly 5 per cent of its workforce in the face of "challenges posed by patent expirations and pricing pressures from government and private sector players."
The cuts are part of a wider rationalisation plan that also includes streamlining its pipeline, focusing on fewer diseases and in-licensing more drug candidates.
As far as GlaxoSmithKline is concerned, the idea of R&D divided into therapeutic ideas is not a new one, with the company having set up seven Centres of Excellence for Drug Discovery (CEDDs) years ago.