In his first speech as Roche’s new chief executive, Severin Schwan has said that the Swiss healthcare giant intends to focus more on personalised medicine.

Speaking at the firm’s annual general meeting in Basel, Dr Schwan, who has succeeded Franz Humer as CEO, claimed that “it is an unfortunate fact that medicines are currently not as effective as they could be in an average of around 50% of patients, and in certain indications the success rate is even lower”. However, he added that Roche’s strategy is unique “and we must use it as a basis for successfully advancing the company” by “systematically pursuing personalised medicine”.

Using the genetic differences between patients to develop treatments and tests tailored to the needs of specific patient populations is seen by many observers as being a long way off, but Dr Schwan claimed that Roche’s approach “is capable of increasing the safety, efficacy and cost-efficiency of treatment”. There is “no company in the world in a better position to make this approach reality”, he added.

Dr Humer who will continue as Roche’s chairman, echoed those sentiments, saying that “one of the things that most clearly sets Roche apart from other healthcare companies is its pioneering role in the development of personalised healthcare solutions”. He admitted that “it will be some time before this potential can be exploited fully, but the market is clearly shifting away from ‘one size fits all’ products”. Dr Humer concluded by saying “the fact that Roche is a leader in both pharmaceuticals and diagnostics is a major competitive advantage”.

Tamiflu, Relenza labels tightened
Back to the present day and Roche has updated the labelling on its influenza treatment Tamiflu (oseltamivir) in the USA, as has GlaxoSmithKline for its rival product Relenza (zanamivir).

The Tamiflu label has been changed to warn about the potential for delirium or other abnormal behaviour which has in some cases (most notably in Japan) resulted in a fatal outcome in patients with influenza taking the treatment. The changes "reflect observations from a growing body of data”, said Roche, which also notes that the data “shows no evidence of a causal relationship between Tamiflu and the reported events."

GSK’s warning on Relenza follows pretty much the same lines and both drug labels call for closer monitoring of patients for signs of abnormal behaviour. Roche and GSK noted that the revised labels reflected recommendations from the US Food and Drug Administration’s Paediatric Advisory Committee made in November last year.

Those recommendations followed a review of around 700 cases of psychiatric adverse events for both drugs, and 25 incidences of paediatric deaths in patients taking Tamiflu reported to the FDA up until May last year. No fatalities were reported for Relenza.