Art Levinson says goodbye to Roche and will focus on Calico’s development

Roche announced today that Arthur D. Levinson has resigned from the Board of Directors, effective immediately. Arthur D. Levinson made this decision so as to avoid any conflict of interest given his role as Chief Executive Officer at Calico.  

“I would like to thank Art for his many important contributions, both as a member of the Board of Directors and during his long history with Genentech and Roche,” said Christoph Franz, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Roche. “We regret Art’s decision but at the same time understand his reasons. The Board has greatly valued Art’s focus on patients, his scientific expertise and business leadership during this period of growth for Roche.”

Art Levinson has served as a member of the Roche Board of Directors since 2010 and served as Chairman of Genentech from 1999 to 2014. Levinson joined Genentech in 1980 as a research scientist and became Vice President, Research Technology in 1989; Vice President, Research in 1990; Senior Vice President, Research in 1992; and Senior Vice President, Research and Development in 1993. He served as Chief Executive Officer of Genentech from 1995 to 2009. Since 2013 he has served as Chief Executive Officer of Calico.

Calico is a new company created by Google in September 2013 that focus on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases.

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Announcing this new investment last September, Larry Page, Google CEO said: “It’s impossible to imagine anyone better than Art—one of the leading scientists, entrepreneurs and CEOs of our generation—to take this new venture forward.” Art said: “I’ve devoted much of my life to science and technology, with the goal of improving human health. Larry’s focus on outsized improvements has inspired me, and I’m tremendously excited about what’s next.”

The news about Art Levinson’s resignation just followed the one about Calico partnering with AbbVie. They both announced yesterday a novel R&D collaboration intended to help the two companies discover, develop and bring to market new therapies for patients with age-related diseases, including for neurodegeneration and cancer.

Under the agreement, the companies will combine their complementary strengths to accelerate the availability of new therapies for age-related diseases:

  • Calico will use its scientific expertise to establish a world-class research and development facility, with a focus on drug discovery and early drug development; and
  • AbbVie will provide scientific and clinical development support and its commercial expertise to bring new discoveries to market.

Richard A. Gonzalez, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, AbbVie said “We are pleased to be working with such outstanding scientists as Art Levinson, Hal Barron (former Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Genentech) and their team. The potential to help improve patients’ lives with new therapies is enormous.”

Following terms of the contract, AbbVie and Calico will each initially provide up to $250 million to fund the collaboration with the potential for both sides to contribute an additional $500 million. Calico will be responsible for research and early development during the first five years and continue to advance collaboration projects through Phase 2a for a ten-year period. AbbVie will support Calico in its early R&D efforts and, following completion of Phase 2a studies, activities and both parties will share costs and profits equally.

This close relation with another Big Pharma company explained the resignation of Art Levinson that avoid any conflict of interest. But why Roche, so close to Calico CEO, didn’t take the chance to collaborate with the new California-based company? Future will surely tell us.

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