Bioscience

Drugmaker Roche plans expansion at Ventana

October 30, 2008

By Flinn Foundation

[Source: The Associated Press] – Pharmaceutical giant Roche Holding AG plans to pour $100 million into Oro Valley-based Ventana Medical Systems next year as it pushes to expand its newly acquired subsidiary.

Switzerland-based Roche bought Ventana earlier this year for about $3.4 billion and said it wanted it to play a key role as Roche expands its vision of personalized health care. Ventana develops and sells instruments and chemicals used to automatically prepare tissue samples for cancer screening and the testing of new drugs.

Roche CEO Severin Schwan said at a luncheon on Tuesday that the company plans to increase the southern Arizona work force from about 750 employees to 1,000. He said Ventana is now the headquarters of a Roche global business unit that focuses on diagnostics. He also said during his visit to Tucson that the company plans to expand research and development laboratories at Ventana’s campus.

The global drug maker chose Ventana because it’s a leader in tissue diagnostics, Schwan said. Ventana’s technology can examine cell structure to determine if certain drug treatments will be effective for patients suffering from cancer or infectious diseases.

“The combination of drugs and diagnostics will get much more important as we progress,” Schwan said.

The acquisition was completed in February and Ventana has since purchased 17.1 acres for $8.9 million to expand its campus.

Ventana’s innovation brought it to Roche’s attention, Schwan said, pointing to a genetic test Ventana developed that can show how effectively a certain drug would fight breast cancer.
The drug, Herceptin, is highly effective in 20 to 30 percent of patients, Schwan said. It works when a gene known as HER2 is present in breast cancer tissue specimens.

Ventana developed an automated test that can detect the gene’s presence and quantity, which indicates whether a patient may benefit from Herceptin, which is sold in the United States by Genentech Inc. Roche owns a majority of California-based Genentech’s stock and has made a bid to buy the rest.

That type of personal health care is potentially a big industry and of great benefit to patients, Schwan said. Knowing if a drug will help or hurt an individual patient is critical, but getting there will be difficult.

“Realizing our vision of personalized health care is an enormous challenge,” Schwan said.
Knowing how drugs will work on a patient also saves money, he said.

“You save the unnecessary and costly treatments for those who need it,” Schwan said.