It's the Friday before Christmas, and Roche's US headquarters in Nutley, NJ, looks deserted. The employees have flown. A bitter-cold
wind batters the chain link fence that surrounds this sprawling campus of featureless buildings that house everything from
a manufacturing plant to research labs to executive suites. At the high-security checkpoint that serves as the single entrance,
the guards are all business.
Inside the near-empty administration building, Zabrowski wraps up a long phone call to Roche's home base in Switzerland, where
it's 5:00 P.M. on the last working day of 2007. He's wearing a colorful funny tie, and his backpack is parked by his desk.
He's clearly doing the corporate thing with a twinkle in his blue eye. Born and raised in the Midwest, he now lives with his
wife and three sons in Basel, that bastion of old Europe, and still makes time to do the AIDS Ride from Boston to New York.
Zabrowski's a molecular chemist, not an MBA or lawyer, and his career path to business-development honcho hasn't been typical.
He started out at Searle, testing serotonin-receptor antagonists for GI diseases, and continued more or less straight down
the pipeline to become the global head of regulatory affairs at Roche. He spent five years shepherding compounds from Phase
III to their judgment day at FDA and its global equivalents, racking up an enviable string of successes: Avastin for solid
tumors; the osteoporosis drug Boniva (ibandronate); Rituxan for rheumatoid arthritis and lymphoma; Pegasys (peginterferon
alfa 2a) for hepatitis B and C, and the Xenical-to-Alli (orlistat) partnership with Glaxo.
I ask Zabrowski about the rumor that heads of deals have the highest turnover rate in pharma. He laughs. "I just got here,"
he says. "So I hope I'm not already one of those statistics." Then he turns serious. "Roche really doesn't have a lot of turnover,
period," he says. "In business development, we have a very talented group that love the work they do, and love making deals.
They're also very stable—people tend to like working at Roche."
But isn't the pressure to close the deal overwhelming? After all, Roche has inked about 100 partnerships. "I'm used to pressure,"
he says. "I come from the regulatory world, where FDA approval of the product you're working on can impact the shareholders
by 10 or 15 percent. That's pressure.
"Our core strategy is innovation," he continues. "And we understand that with innovation comes a need for risk taking, and
with risk taking sometimes comes failure. But this is not a finger-pointing culture—instead we ask, 'What did you learn for
TRACKING THE WILD BIOTECHS
At Roche, business development is divided into four appealingly Neanderthal-sounding functions: "want, find, get, manage."
Pharma is rife with misbegotten deals where M&A and R&D end up pointing fingers at each other for going off strategy. So "want"
requires signoff at the top with input from all sides.
Zabrowski's R&D experience is a big plus: "At every one of our meetings, I spend 30 minutes to an hour getting an early read
from my R&D colleagues about the opportunities we are looking," he says. "We have to be in sync—otherwise we'd bring in products
that the company doesn't embrace."