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. The guiding maxime for Fritz Hoffmann-La Roche was to develop and to manufacture novel drugs of uniform strength and quality and to distribute them internationally–a goal still valid today.
1897 - 1914
Early on Roche starts to expand its business activities. From 1897 to 1910 the production facility in Grenzach, Germany, is greatly expanded and the lion’s share of manufacturing is moved there. Fritz Hoffman-La Roche and his new partner Carl Meerwein do not waste any time in building up a network of European and overseas agents and subsidiaries. Among others Roche opens offices (by 1914) in Milan (Italy), New York (USA), St. Petersburg (Russia), and London (Great Britain).
Roche develops the production process and launches the preparation under the trademark Digalen. It proves to be exactly what the medical profession has been looking for and the drug will stay on the market until 1964. The analgesic and hypnotic Pantopon (1909) and Sedobrol (1912), a drug for epilepsy and nervous disorders, are also released. Roche is growing expands its portofolio.
1915 – 1927
The outbreak of the First World War in August has devastating repercussions for Roche. The German boycott of its products, Basel’s isolation from its plant in Grenzach, the loss of the company’s Russian market and assets in the Revolution of 1917 and sizeable foreign exchange losses have created a financial crisis. In reaction to this development, Roche is transformed into a limited company.
Founding father Fritz Hoffman dies of a kidney disease on 18th April 1920, depriving Roche of a dynamic entrepreneur and a striking individual. Emil C. Barell becomes new chief executive. As a year of crisis, 1921 also sees the creation of the “Beamten-und Arbeiterpensionskasse Roche”, a pension fund for office and factory staff. The occasion is Roche’s 25th anniversary. In addition, chief executive Emil C. Barell personally endows a special fund to provide gifts to employees who have completed 25 years of service with the company.
Alice Keller, a 30-year-old native of Basel, boards ship to Japan (1926). A PhD graduate in political economy, she has worked for Roche Basel for about a year before accepting a post in Tokyo, where the company has had a subsidiary since 1925. In Tokyo she starts off as a kind of girl Friday, handling the correspondence with Basel, revising texts and doing some of the billing and costing. By the time she returns from Japan, in 1939, she will have risen to the senior executive rank of Direktorin–as sensational achievement for the times.
1928 – 1944
Roche managed to overcome the crises under the leadership of chairman Emil C. Barell. The company experienced an unexpected upsurge spurred by its vitamin production, which made the return to former prosperity possible. Roche is able to expand once more and starts its strong commitment to the US-American market with first investments in New York and Nutley.
Tadeusz Reichstein (Nobel Prize winner 1950) offers Roche a workable method of synthesising vitamin C. When vitamin C proves to be a commercial success, te process for full production is scaled up. One year later the first 50 kilograms of vitamin C are produced. This marks the real start of vitamin manufacturing at Roche.
As a first vitamin preparation, Redoxon is launched. Roche becomes the leading supplier of vitamins, having mastered the industrial synthesis of vitamin A, B1, B2, E and K1. By 1938 vitamins were the company’s mainstays, encompassing Benerva (vitamin B1), Nestrovit (multi-vitamin), Beflavin (vitamin B2), Ephynal (vitamin E).
1945 - 1964
To avoid a strong dependency on vitamins Roche intensifies pharmaceutical research. Roche enters the cosmetics sector 1945 The Panteen Corporation with its affiliates is founded 1945. In total 4000 employees now work for Roche, alone 1200 in Basel, Switzerland, and 2000 in Nutley, USA. Fluorouracil (1962) Roche is the first anticancer drug of the company, paving the way for Roche’s activities in the field of cancer chemotherapy.
1965 - 1978
Propelled by the success of the benzodiazepines, Roche is to branch out into markets spanning the whole spectrum of healthcare.
Roche’s involvement in basic biomedical research reflected by the decision to establish the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology in Nutley, USA and the Basel institute of Immunology as well as the Nippon Research Center in Kamakura, Japan.
The first director of Roche Institute of Molecular Biology, Niels Kaj Jerne, won a Nobel Prize. The antiparkinson drug Madopar wins the Prix Galien (1974), a prize created in 1970 in France to honour innovative and valuable advances in drug therapy.
1979 - 1990
Roche begins to tighten organisational structures and moves towards creating separate business units, which should become more and more autonomous. In addition, corporate activities are consolidated through selective acquisitions and divestments in various business segments. After a general alignment of the company’s structures Roche is left with four core business division: pharmaceuticals, vitamins, and fine chemicals, diagnostics, and flavors and fragrances.
By 1987 Rocephin will be outselling all other Roche products world-wide. The Diagnostics division released to Cobas Bio/Mira random access biochemistry analyser. With Roferon-A, Roche’s first genetically engineered drug enters the market.
1991 – 2000
Through its firm commitment to research, Roche intends to continue developing innovative advances in drug therapy that will replace more expansive treatments and shorten hospital stay. A series of innovative drugs for cancer treatment from the mid-90s onwards have been developed.
Herceptin is a novel treatment for metastatic breast cancer. It is a humanised antibody, designed to target and block the function of HER2, a protein produced by a specific gene with cancer-causing potential.
MabThera increases the time patients with the most common form of adult leukemia live without their cancer progressions.
Invirase, the first HIV-protease inhibitor is launched 1996, which is awarded the Prix Galien 1999. Furthermore Roche releases Valcyte and Fuzeon. They represent the first drugs of the new class of fusion inhibitors aimed at treating HIV. Fuzeon blocks the virus from entering the human immune cell, preventing HIV replication that can devastate the immune systems of HIV infected individuals (Prix Gallien 2004).
Accutrend and Accu-Check line–that offer more convenient diabetes management and virtually pain-free testing for people with Diabetes.
2000 - today
Roche prepares for the future of healthcare. By sharpening the Group’s focus on its core businesses-Pharmaceuticals and Diagnostics–the way of the future development is already paved. Roche is the first global healthcare company to establish and R&D centre at Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park in Shanghai, China. Roche and Chugai enter into a strategic alliance to create a leading research driven Japanese pharmaceutical company in 2002.
The new enterprise-formed by the merger of Nippon Roche and Chugai and named Chugai Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. – will be the 5th largest pharmaceuticals company in the world’s second largest pharma market.
Avastin (2004) is the first in an innovative class of drugs used to treat metastatic colorectal cancer. It is called an anti-angiogenic agent, and it is different from other agents used to treat this type of cancer. This innovative therapy works by preventing the formation of new blood vessels, a process called angiogenesis.
Tarceva, a new class of cancer drugs, is released. It is an oral drug that works by inhibiting the activity of a specific enzyme (tyrosine kinase), part of the human epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), a signaling pathway which plays a key role in the formation and growth of numerous cancers.
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