Infectious Diseases

Viral and bacterial infections are among the leading causes of disease and death. Our research is dedicated to finding effective treatments for life-threatening infectious diseases, focusing on hepatitis B, influenza and multi-drug resistant bacteria.
Roche research and development in infectious diseases aims to address areas of high unmet medical need with global significance.

Infectious diseases caused by viral and bacterial pathogens represent an ever-growing medical need for millions of patients worldwide. Combining a rich legacy in infectious diseases with the latest science and technology platforms, Roche focuses on the discovery and development of novel treatments to address some of the world’s most pressing health challenges.

Currently, Roche infectious diseases research and development focuses on three main therapeutic areas:

More than a quarter billion people worldwide are infected with Hepatitis B Virus (HBV). It is the 10th leading cause of death worldwide, the most pathogenic of all hepatitis types, and one strongly associated with irreversible liver damage, chronic active hepatitis, and the development of cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. While currently available HBV medicines can effectively suppress viral replication, they often require long-term or lifelong treatment.

Roche’s strategy aims to achieve a cure for chronic Hepatitis B infection with a best-in-disease combination therapy that pairs direct-acting antivirals (targeting the HBV lifecycle) with immune-enhancing molecules (clearing the virus).

Influenza, or ‘flu’, represents a serious threat to global public health. Annual epidemics result in 3 to 5 million cases of severe disease, millions of hospitalisations and up to 650,000 deaths due to respiratory complications. The flu can affect anyone and prove deadly for those who are vulnerable to complications, including the young, elderly and immunocompromised.

Although vaccines are an important first line defence, there remains a need for new medical options to prevent and treat flu. Roche aims to do this by building on a strong heritage and expertise in influenza to deliver new treatments in this important therapeutic area.

Antibiotics have provided protection against life-threatening bacterial infections for nearly 100 years. However, multi-drug resistance is on the rise and the need for novel antibiotics is greater than ever. Drug-resistant bacteria are responsible for an estimated 700,000 deaths worldwide each year.

As one of very few large pharmaceutical companies remaining in antibiotics research and development, Roche endeavours to build upon its legacy as a leader in the “golden age” of antibiotic development to deliver novel antibiotics with entirely new mechanisms of action, thereby ushering in a “platinum age”. Current efforts focus on developing treatments for the top three Gram-negative bacteria identified by the World Health Organization as #1 Priority Pathogens.

Infectious diseases present a serious risk to the health of people in the UK and worldwide.

These diseases include viruses such as influenza, HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C (HCV) and human papilloma virus (HPV) and infections such as sepsis, chlamydia and gonorrhoea. All have the ability, under different conditions, to spread from person to person.

To limit the spread of infectious diseases it is essential to diagnose them early and treat them effectively.

As the world leader in in-vitro diagnostics and viral disease treatment, Roche is at the forefront of tackling infectious diseases. We research, develop and provide products to diagnose, treat and monitor viruses or bacterial infections.

We have a rich history of medical innovation in this field and a promising future with our focus on personalised healthcare - an approach that specifically takes into account emerging knowledge about the molecular pathology of diseases and of patients’ individual characteristics.

Infectious diseases are caused through the spread of a micro-organism such as a bacterium or virus. They spread from person to person, often via the skin, saliva, blood or other bodily fluids.

Roche works to diagnose and treat several infectious diseases.

One of the most common and contagious viruses is influenza. This infects the lungs and upper airways, causing a sudden high temperature and symptoms including aches and pains, headache, coughing and sore throat.

By changing their profile slightly every year, influenza viruses make it difficult for our immune system to fight them off.
The influenza virus is spread in droplets of saliva coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person. It can also be picked up from hard surfaces, such as door handles that have been touched by someone with the virus.

Hepatitis B & C
Hepatitis B & C are viral infections that cause inflammation of the liver. They are similar in their causes and symptoms, however they have different effects on the liver. 

Hepatitis B can cause the liver to swell, and sometimes cause significant liver damage. The vast majority of people who are infected with hepatitis B are able to fight off the virus and fully recover from the infection within a couple of months. However, hepatitis B can go on to cause chronic illness, where it lasts for longer than six months. This is very common in babies and young children, but it can also occur in 2-10% of infected adults. Source:

Hepatitis C can lead to scarring of the liver, liver cancer or liver failure and is potentially life threatening.

Symptoms of hepatitis C can include a short, flu-like illness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, weight loss, jaundice or itchy skin. Others may be infected for years without knowing. 

Hepatitis C is mainly spread through contact with the blood of an infected person. Sharing contaminated needles or other equipment for injecting drugs poses the biggest risk. Anyone who received a blood transfusion or blood products in the Middle East before screening was introduced could also be at risk. 

Less commonly, the virus can also be transmitted through unsterilised tattoo, acupuncture or body piercing equipment or by having unprotected sex with a person with the virus. It is also possible for the virus to be passed from an infected mother to her baby or via contaminated razors or toothbrushes.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
The HIV infects and destroys blood cells called CD4 cells. These cells help fight infection and their destruction stops the immune system working. Someone with HIV is therefore at a high risk of developing a serious infection or disease, such as cancer.

HIV is transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids, such as semen or blood. It can spread through sexual intercourse, by sharing needles for injecting drugs, from a mother to her unborn child and through infected blood transfusions.

Sepsis occurs when infection has spread through the blood. This leads to widespread inflammation which can damage organs and interfere with the flow of blood. It is estimated that there are 31,000 cases of severe sepsis in England and Wales every year, with 30 to 50 per cent of those affected dying from the condition. Source:

Sepsis begins either as a result of an infection confined to a particular part of the body, such as pneumonia or appendicitis, or as a result of a severe injury. If the immune system is weakened or the infection or injury is very severe, the infection then spreads through the blood. The immune system reacts by releasing a high number of proteins called cytokines. Instead of fighting the infection, the proteins cause damage to the organs of the body and affect blood circulation.

Chlamydia is now the most commonly diagnosed sexually transmitted infection in the U.K. It often has no symptoms, but, if left untreated, can lead to complications including pelvic pain in women. If the infection spreads, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease in women, which can cause infertility, ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage.

Chlamydia is caused by a bacterium called chlamydia trachomatis. It is transmitted through sex, with incidence higher in young people under 25.

Another STI is gonorrhoea, which is also passed on by sex. It is caused by a bacterium called neisseria gonorrhoea. Symptoms include changes in discharge from the vagina or penis, pain or burning sensation when urinating in women and inflammation of the testicles and prostate gland in men. If left untreated, gonorrhoea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease in women and can also affect fertility in men.

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
Also sexually transmitted are a group of more than 100 viruses that are known collectively as human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV affects the skin and the moist membranes that line parts of the body. Some types of HPV are known to increase the risk of developing particular types of cancer whilst others can cause warts and verrucas. 

The HPV virus is spread through skin contact. It is often transmitted during sex but it is thought that there may be other ways of spreading the virus that are yet to be identified.

Understanding all these infectious diseases at a molecular level helps our scientists to develop tests and medicines to detect, treat and monitor them.

Given the destructive capabilities of infectious diseases and their ability to spread, early and accurate diagnosis is crucial, while monitoring blood levels of infectious agents like bloodbourne viruses is crucial to assess effectiveness of antiviral treatment.

As the world leader in in-vitro diagnostics, Roche offers the widest range of tests based on real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) technology for detecting and monitoring infectious diseases. These are based on our deep insights into the mechanisms of infectious diseases and our expertise in molecular diagnostics.

For both hepatitis B and C, the concentration of hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV), respectively, is an indication how a patient responds to antiviral treatment.

Another test in the same product range enables the rapid, reliable and routine detection and monitoring of HIV-1. 

Immunocompromised individuals, like transplant and AIDS patients, are at high risk for developing severe CMV infections that can lead to a higher rate of morbidity and mortality. 

Roche is proud to provide products that safeguard blood and blood products, helping prevent infectious diseases from being transmitted through blood transfusions.

In the intensive care field, our aim is to provide rapid and reliable detection and identification of 25 different pathogens which are responsible for 90% of all nosocomial systemic infections. The test is the first of its kind to use PCR technology and can detect and identify both bacterial and fungal sepsis pathogens in less than six hours.

Modern medicines and molecular diagnostic tests today support patients and healthcare professionals in the battle against infectious diseases.

The ability of viruses to keep adapting makes them notoriously hard to fight but Roche has a track record of groundbreaking research and development with a portfolio of innovative products that support treatment.

For influenza, we co-developed a neuraminidase inhibitor - one of the latest class of treatments that specifically attack the influenza A and B viruses. The medicine works by stopping the virus replicating.

For HIV, our teams discovered the first HIV protease inhibitor, which radically changed the outlook for people with the disease. We also played a crucial role in the development of the first fusion inhibitor which works by blocking the virus from entering the human immune cell.

Roche provides a range of medicines for HIV-related conditions, including cytomegalovirus (CMV) which can cause blindness in people with HIV and AIDS. Our goal is to enable the regular monitoring of the virus, its response to treatment and any resistance, enabling specialists to adjust treatment if needed.

Patients with mild sepsis may be treated at home with antibiotics but severe cases need to be treated in intensive care. Whilst technology supports bodily functions, such as breathing or blood circulation, the infection is treated with intravenous antibiotics. 

Gonorrhoea and chlamydia are both treated with antibiotics – either taken as tablets or given by injection.

The fight against infectious diseases continues, with Roche at its forefront.

One of the key areas of research for our pharmaceutical teams is virology. Our vision is to change the way viral diseases are treated in order to find cures for chronic viral infections. We have a rich pipeline of potential new products – some discovered by our own scientists and others being developed with our partners.

In hepatitis C, our experience and expertise is enabling our scientists to develop broad-spectrum anti-viral treatments. Our goal is to create the broadest range of options for patients by identifying and targeting the genomic factors associated with the disease, its resistance to treatment and variations in individuals’ responses to treatment.

Roche is developing a number of potential new medicines, focusing on two mechanisms of action called polymerase inhibition and protease inhibition. Compounds from both classes are being studied in combination with our existing treatments and a number of medicines are undergoing clinical trials.

HPV is another key area of research and a therapeutic vaccine developed by one of our partner companies, Transgene, is currently undergoing clinical trials. 

We will also continue to invest in research and development to drive further advancements in molecular diagnostics technology to diagnose and monitor for infectious disease

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