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Roche ramps up biotech

By Anna Lewcock , 21-Jan-2008

Roche has announced major investments at three of its European sites, continuing its drive to strengthen its position in the biopharmaceutical market.

The Swiss pharma has earmarked CHF430m ($391.6m) to expand capacity at three sites in Germany and Switzerland. Around CHF280m is going towards beefing up biotech R&D activities at the firm's site in Penzberg, Germany, focusing on the development and production of biopharmaceuticals for oncology indications.


A further CHF150m will be invested in the sites at Mannheim, Germany, and Kaiseraugst, Switzerland, to expand capacity for syringe filling activities for drugs such as anaemia treatment Mircera (methoxy polyethylene glycol-epoetin beta), Pegasys (peginterferon alfa-2a) for hep C, and rheumatoid arthritis treatment Actemra (tocilizumab). Although Roche currently operates approximately 17 production sites worldwide, the three sites in Germany and Switzerland were selected following a 'thorough evaluation' of the company's manufacturing activities and 'taking on board local business conditions' at each location.


According to Franz Humer, Roche CEO, the move safeguards and expands production of the company's products in light of the heavy demand for the firm's biopharmaceuticals. With 'biotech' increasingly the buzz word in the industry, Roche is just one of numerous pharma firms shouldering their way into the biopharmaceutical market on the promise of big bucks as their biologics hit the shelves.


Currently half of Roche Group's top 10 pharmaceuticals are products of biotech research, accounting for around 45 per cent of the pharma division's total sales. Measured by sales and manufacturing capacity for biopharmaceuticals, the Roche Group claims it is the leading biotech firm worldwide. In oncology alone, Roche currently has over a dozen biologic therapies in various stages of development in its pipeline.


Biotech has been on the company's investment list for several years, with the firm ploughing money into expansions at various sites worldwide. In 2004 the company announced a CHF800m investment to establish new biotech production facilities at the site in Penzberg and its Basel, Switzerland plant.


The multipurpose biotechnology production centre in Basel opened in May last year, initially manufacturing the active ingredient for Roche's anticancer drug, Avastin (bevacizumab). The Penzberg site was down to manufacture the active ingredient for another of Roche's top oncology products, Herceptin (trastuzumab).


In addition to Basel and Penzburg, the company has biopharmaceutical manufacturing facilities in South San Francisco (US, Genentech), Vacaville (US, Genentech), Oceanside (US, Genentech), Utsunomiya (Japan, Chugai) and Ukima (Japan, Chugai).

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