Osteoporosis is a ‘silent’ disease of the skeleton that makes your bones fragile and more likely to break.

Roche is committed to providing patients and their medical teams with innovative diagnostic tools and medicines to treat this disease.

The future promises further innovation, thanks to 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.

Bones contain a protein called collagen, calcium salts and other minerals as well as specialised bone cells. Each bone has a hard outer shell known as cortical bone which contains a mesh of tiny struts of trabecular bone, collagen (tough elastic fibres), minerals, blood vessels and bone marrow.

Healthy bones are dense with small spaces within the honeycomb-like mesh. In osteoporosis, the inner struts become thinner and the spaces become larger, making the bones weaker, less elastic and more fragile.

This loss of bone mass puts people with osteoporosis at a greater risk of breaking bones. In fact, osteoporosis can progress painlessly until a bone breaks.

Minor bumps or falls, or in some cases even coughing or sneezing, can cause fractures. These breaks, often known as fragility fractures, can occur anywhere but usually affect the hip, spine or wrist.

Broken bones will still usually heal in six to eight weeks but fractures can lead to a loss of mobility and general incapacity. Of the 60,000 people who suffer osteoporotic hip fractures each year, 15 to 20 per cent will die within a year from causes related to the fracture1.

At Roche, our knowledge of osteoporosis and its impact on patients’ lives drives our commitment to provide cutting edge diagnostic solutions and medicines for this disease.

Our bones are living tissue and change throughout our lives. Old bone is broken down and replaced by new bone in a process called bone turnover. Whilst a child’s skeleton renews itself every two years, an adult’s takes between seven and ten years2.

The density of our bones increases until we reach our mid 20s and it is important to ‘bank’ as much bone as you can during this period by taking weight bearing exercise and eating a well balanced, calcium-rich diet. In most cases, after the age of 35, bone loss starts to increase very gradually2.

Osteoporosis results from an imbalance between the bone-building and bone-destroying cells involved in the normal cycle of bone formation and resorption, increasing the rate of bone destruction.

A variety of factors put people at risk of osteoporosis and fractures. Genetics is important – our height and strength of our bones is inherited and if one of your parents has broken a hip you may be more susceptible to developing osteoporosis.

Roche’s scientists are researching the genes involved in bone formation or metabolism and any variations in them which may result in an increased risk to develop osteoporosis. Our understanding of this predisposition is integral to our ambition to develop even more personalised solutions to manage and tackle the disease.

Age is also important, because bone loss increases as we get older. Women are more at risk as their bones are smaller and a fall in levels of the hormone oestrogen during the menopause can speed up bone loss.

Some diseases, such as diabetes and chronic kidney disease, or treatments, such as chemotherapy or chronic corticosteroid therapy, can also weaken the bones.  

Lifestyle and nutrition also play a part - smoking, drinking, lack of exercise, low body weight and a diet poor in calcium and vitamin D can increase the risk of developing osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is usually diagnosed by a bone density scan called a dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan. This scan measures the density of bones to assess their strength and your risk of a fracture.

Other tests to measure bone mass density include QCT (quantitative computed tomography) or QUS (quantitative ultrasound scanning).

Blood serum and urine can also be tested for biochemical markers of bone turnover, which assesses how much bone is being formed and broken down. Bone Marker diagnostic tests provide consultants with a holistic overview of a patient’s bone status, helping them to confirm a diagnosis of osteoporosis as well as monitoring treatment.

Osteoporosis, and the fractures it causes, is a long term condition that, as yet, has no cure. The main aims of treatment are to prevent further fractures and relieve pain so that patients can continue to live as healthy and active a life as possible.

Doctors will often use a range of different treatments, including oestrogen and calcitonin hormone therapies, calcium and vitamin D supplements and medicines including bisphosphonates and selective oestrogen receptor modulators (SERMs). Roche’s treatment portfolio includes a bisphosphonate for use in osteoporosis. Bisphosphonates are currently the most widely prescribed medicines for osteoporosis and work by slowing down the rate of bone loss.

Roche will continue to tackle osteoporosis through the development of novel markers across the full spectrum of the clinical pathway - from risk assessment, screening, prognosis, diagnosis, response prediction through to treatment and therapy management


  1. National Osteoporosis Society UK

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