Interview with Dr. Christian Klein, Leader Cancer Immunotherapy, Discovery Oncology, Roche Glycart AG
1. For over two years now, you have been Site Head at Roche Glycart AG in Schlieren, also known as RICZ: Roche Innovation Center Zurich. As a pure research organisation with almost 200 employees, we form part of pRED and the Center of Excellence for Cancer Immunotherapy. As Department Head for Cancer Immunotherapy Discovery 3, you are also responsible for projects to develop active ingredients in oncology, focusing on next-generation bispecific antibodies. What do you see as the biggest challenge in your day-to-day work, and how do you manage to juggle different demands?
My primary focus remains clearly on research; we need to press ahead efficiently with current projects, and bring new, attractive projects on board. For organisational matters, I am able to rely on the brilliant support provided by the operations team. Our aims as a research organisation are to position Roche Glycart externally as an attractive employer, and internally to play a key role in pRED research. We want to remain at the cutting edge of research, and maintain and build upon our internationally recognised leading position in the field of immunotherapy. Competition in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology is fierce and continues to grow, so we need to focus on our strengths and adapt to the rapidly changing environment with agility and flexibility. For us, the Zurich site has the benefit of being close to the ETH and the University and its hospital, particularly when it comes to looking for new talent, but also with regard to joint ventures. Other important factors include a streamlined organisation, constantly prioritising all activities that enable us to maintain a large portfolio of active ingredient candidate molecules and, last but not least, maintaining our "biotech spirit" within the Roche ONE pRED organisation. I would also like to emphasise the international nature of our site, which has employees from 30 nations, has had a high percentage of women at all organisational levels for many years now, and offers the opportunity for customised flexible working, for example when staff return from maternity leave.
2. As the father of a daughter and three sons and particularly during the pandemic, how do you manage to balance the different aspects of your life?
The current COVID situation is a challenge for many of us, as we all have a large number of meetings. However, for most of us the situation provides a certain degree of flexibility when working from home, where this is possible. In this respect, we have also learned that flexible working is possible and discovered how to go about it. For me, a good way of spending time with the children is by doing sport together, such as bike rides and tennis. Like many other people apparently, I personally have acquired a racing bike during lockdown, which I use for shorter and also longer rides, schedule and weather permitting.
3. Everybody's talking about the new normal and new ways of working; we're all experiencing drastic changes at many different levels. Where do you see opportunities and challenges for us professionally and for Roche Glycart AG within the Roche family?
The majority of our staff spend most of their time in the lab, and that will continue to be essential in future years, and is the core of our research. We've also seen that many people enjoy coming into work on site for the opportunity to chat informally; something that is unfortunately only possible to a limited extent at present. But our new building is designed in such a way that it enables and encourages interaction between employees at all levels. In this respect, we are looking forward to the time when we can all be back on site together. Regardless of these barriers, 2020 has shown us that we can move forward efficiently with our projects despite huge restrictions, and we have even been able to exceed some of the targets set for last year. In the next few years, there will probably not be as much business travel as previously, which will have environmental and economic benefits. However, virtual events cannot completely replace scientific discussions and maintaining networks with colleagues at conferences, so these events will be important in the future too.
4. Coming back to our core business, various transformations are taking place within Roche with the aim of being able to invest more money in research. Where will these resources be used at Roche Glycart AG, and how can we become better and more efficient?
The 2021 budget for RICZ is more or less the same as in previous years. Expectations in terms of output – innovative new candidate molecules – are high within the Roche Pharma 2030 targets, but do not necessarily involve any increase in headcount. The long-term Roche 2030 targets in particular can only be achieved by increasing the efficiency of operating procedures, for instance by further automating the screening process, analysing larger datasets than in the past and also "FAIRifying" data in accordance with the FAIR principle, as well as by ensuring greater responsibility and personal initiative on the part of everyone involved.
5. As AVR site representative, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the constructive atmosphere I have always experienced at all levels during discussions (e.g. counselling interviews) in situations of personnel conflict. As long as people can sit together and talk openly about conflict, a satisfactory compromise can usually be found. How do you see the role of the AVR in future, and what are your expectations of the association?
The AVR has been and remains an important link between operational staff and management. It is important to find good solutions together, even in situations of conflict. The AVR is able to support employees on matters that are important to them, such as those concerning the work environment at Roche. The current transformation in People & Culture means that laboratory managers and employees have a lot to do, and we can see some potential for improvement in the future there. It's important to address sources of friction promptly, and to be able to discuss concerns and reservations openly and transparently.
The interview was conducted by Dr. Ralf Geertsen,
AVR Site Representative Schlieren