* Franz elected by 99.8 pct of shareholders
* Pledges to stick to Roche's current strategy
* Says up to Novartis to decide on Roche stake
By Caroline Copley
BASEL, March 4 Outgoing Lufthansa boss
Christoph Franz vowed to keep Roche on its current
course after shareholders overwhelmingly elected him as chairman
of the Swiss drugmaker.
The 53-year-old is taking over as non-executive chairman of
the world's largest drugmaker by market capitalisation from
Franz Humer who is stepping down after 16 years as CEO and
"One thing has become clear today. This company is on track
and therefore continuity (...) is the order of the day," Franz
said on Tuesday, after 99.8 percent of shareholders approved his
"We are the innovation drivers in our industry but we cannot
rest on our laurels. We have to look into the future and shape
our successes for the next few years," he added.
Franz, who implemented a tough cost-cutting programme at the
German airline that was met with ire from trade unions, is
inheriting a company at the top of its game. Roche boasts an
enviable list of high-margin new cancer drugs, a well-stocked
pipeline and bumper profit margins.
Still, in the mid-term, the company's margins and profits
could come under pressure, as more drugmakers crowd into the hot
area of cancer research and encroach on Roche's dominance.
This puts pressure on Roche to move into a new therapeutic
area, having had a string of failures with medicines to treat
cardiovascular disease, diabetes and schizophrenia.
On Monday, it halted a late-stage study into its
experimental lung cancer drug MetMab, because it failed to help
people with the disease.
Franz, who has spent the majority of his career in the rail
and airline industries, plans to embark on a tour of Roche's
most important markets with Humer this year to speak with the
company's main stakeholders.
He said his biggest challenge would be to keep the company
"flying high" with a well-stocked pipeline.
Investors are also speculating how Roche might use its cash
now that its net debt to assets ratio is back within its target
band of zero to 15 percent after paying down debt from its 2009
acquisition of the remainder of Californian biotech Genentech.
Franz stressed that Roche, which walked away from an attempt
to buy U.S. gene sequencing company Illumina for $6.7
billion in 2012, would remain a disciplined acquirer.
"We have more freedom to act but we are also under no
obligation to use this freedom," he told journalists after the
His appointment completes a changing of the guard at
Switzerland's two biggest drugmakers after former Bayer
pharma chief Joerg Reinhardt took over as chairman of
Novartis last August.
The arrival of the two Germans has stirred hope of a thawing
in relations that could see Novartis sell back its one-third
voting stake in its cross-town rival. But Franz said it was up
to Novartis to decide what to do with the holding.