The founder of Roche, Fritz Hoffmann-La Roche, was a pioneering entrepreneur who was convinced that the future belonged to branded pharmaceutical products.
The Founding years
F. Hoffmann-La Roche & Co. was founded at a time when industrial revolution was changing the face of Europe. On October 1, 1896, at the age of 28, Fritz Hoffmann-La Roche launched his company as the successor company to Hoffmann, Traub & Co in Basel, Switzerland. He was among the first to recognise that the industrial manufacture of medicines would be a major advance in the fight against disease. Since then, Roche has grown into one of the world's leading healthcare companies.
High hopes for a wound antiseptic
Roche launches Airol, a wound antiseptic originally developed by Hoffmann, Traub & Co. The young company has high hopes for Airol on the German market. Roche buys land in the nearby German farming community of Grenzach and builds a small factory to produce Airol.
Roche expands worldwide
From 1897 to 1914 Roche expands worldwide, employing more than 700 people in Basel, Grenzach, Milan, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, St. Petersburg, London, New York and Yokohama. During this period, Roche strives for strong cooperation between academic circles and commercial developers. Until 1915, all Roche innovations result from such cooperation.
Fritz Hoffmann dies
Founding father Fritz Hoffmann dies of kidney disease on 18 April 1920, depriving Roche of a dynamic entrepreneur and a striking individual. “At every step it was [Fritz Hoffmann] who determined the company’s direction, guiding it to bigger and better things with his vision, restless energy, infectious spontaneity and indomitable optimism,” said Emil C. Barell in a eulogy for Hoffmann. Barell becomes the new Chief Executive.
Roche’s first woman executive
Alice Keller, a 30-year-old native of Basel, boards ship to Japan in 1926. A PhD graduate in political economics she has worked at Roche Basel for about a year before accepting a post in Tokyo, where the company formed a subsidiary in 1925. She starts as a kind of girl Friday, handling correspondence, revising documents and doing some of the billing and costing. When she returns in 1939, Keller has risen to the senior executive ranks of Direktorin – a sensational achievement for the times.
Success story for vitamins
Tadeusz Reichstein (Nobel Prize winner 1950) offers Roche a workable method of synthesising vitamin C. A year later the first 50 kilograms of vitamin C are produced, marking the start of vitamin manufacturing at Roche. The first vitamin C preparation, Redoxon, is launched. Roche becomes the leading supplier of vitamins, having also mastered the industrial synthesis of vitamin A, B1, B2, E and K1. By 1938, vitamins are the company’s mainstay, encompassing Benerva (vitamin B1), Nestrovit (multi-vitamin), Beflavin (vitamin B2) and Ephynal (vitamin E).
Roche enters diagnostics market
The creation in 1968 of a department for diagnostic products marks Roche’s entry into a new sector. Apart from developing new diagnostic tests and automatic analysers, objectives include setting up service laboratories to perform clinical analyses for hospitals and office-based physicians.
Leap forward in cancer therapy
In 1980 at the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology, a pure interferon alfa is isolated. Roche Nutley and Genentech, a biotech company based in South San Francisco, begin a joint project to produce a genetically engineered version of the substance.
Group structure created
The corporate structure introduced in 1986 is extended and reinforced, preparing the way for separate operating divisions in 1990. The changes involve the formation of a holding company (Roche Holding AG), parallel to an increase in nominal share capital and in the number of bearer shares. The new structure gives Roche access to international capital markets.
Rights to PCR strengthen Diagnostics Division
Roche acquires the worldwide marketing rights to the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) from Cetus Corporation in 1991. Capable of detecting minute amounts of genetic material, the technique opens the way to developing diagnostic tests that are fast, sensitive and specific for a broad spectrum of medical and research uses.
Innovation in Diagnostics
The Diagnostics Division launches a series of products in the mid-1990s in all areas of medical testing: Cobas Integra, a clinical chemistry and immunochemistry analyzer; Cobas Core II, an immunochemistry analyzer; Cobas Amplicor, an analyser based on PCR technology.
Company restructures to focus on biotech
Roche ranks among the world’s leading healthcare companies with its expertise in two core businesses – Diagnostics and Pharmaceuticals. Combined with its strength in biotechnology, the company paves the way to the future of healthcare with innovations in areas such as personalised healthcare.
Responsible business practices acknowledged
In 2004 Roche is recognised as a leader in healthcare in two of the world’s foremost sustainability indices, the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index and the Dow Jones STOXX Sustainability Index. Previously, Roche was listed in the UK’s FTSE4Good Index, which measures corporate performance against accepted standards of social responsibility. Inclusion in these important indexes underlines Roche’s commitment to responsible business practice and sustainable long-term value creation.
Moving towards personalised healthcare
The increased focus on innovation and biotechnology lead to important advances in diagnostic techniques and medicines aimed at molecular targets. As a result, many diseases can be detected earlier and treated more specifically. The full integration with biotech pioneer Genentech in 2009 follows acquisitions of other key players in life science research, gene sequencing and tissue diagnostics. These strengthen Roche’s access to innovation and new technologies and drive its commitment to more targeted treatments that, ultimately, make personalised healthcare a reality.
Acquisitions bring new diagnostic technologies – part 1
A series of key acquisitions in 2007 and 2008 bring important technologies to Roche Diagnostics. BioVeris allows expansion of its immunochemistry business into new segments such as life science development, drug discovery, drug development and clinical trials. NimbleGen brings access to DNA microarrays, which are widely used as discovery and research tools in pharma research.
Acquisitions bring new diagnostic technologies – part 2
454 Life Sciences gives access to future generations of sequencing products and the use of 454 Sequencing for in-vitro diagnostic applications. Ventana Medical Systems, a leader in fast-growing tissue-based diagnostics, allows Roche to broaden its diagnostic offerings and complement its world leadership in both in-vitro diagnostic systems and oncology therapies.
Recognition for sustainable business practices
In 2007 Roche receives the first Financial Times Citi Private Bank Environment Award for the greatest improvement in carbon efficiency by a large enterprise both on a European and a global level. In 2010 Roche is recognised as the most sustainable healthcare company worldwide. Named Supersector Leader in Healthcare in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the first time, Roche goes on to consistently win the award in subsequent years.
New high-performance diagnostics system
The cobas 8000 diagnostics system launches in 2009. Its modular components can be combined in various ways to form high-performance test lines. The system is designed for high-workload laboratories and can process 8,400 tests per hour.
New active ingredients in the fight against cancer
In 2012 and 2013, Roche launches a series of innovative treatments for specific types of cancer: Erivedge is a novel signal pathway inhibitor that was initially approved for the treatment of basal cell carcinomas; Gazyva is launched for the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia; and Perjeta and Kadcyla, the first antibody drug conjugate developed by Roche, mark the introduction of two new treatments for HER2-positive breast cancer.
New tests to detect cancer
Several novel tests for the detection of different types of cancer hold promise for more effective tumour treatment in the future. The CINtec PLUS cytology test for fully automated cell-based cervical cancer screening rounds out Roche’s portfolio of tests for the early detection of this type of cancer. It also detects cases that might not have been identified with Pap smear screening alone.