Published July 17, 2001
Volume 9, Number 7

Hacienda Headquarters Joins in Broad-Based Genetics Research Initiative
Makeba Payton, a PCR international technical blood screening specialist, works
in one of Roche's Hacienda labs.

By Jay Hipps
Network Editor

Roche Molecular Systems, the Hacienda-based division of pharmaceutical giant F. Hoffman-La Roche Ltd., is playing a key role in a new company-wide initiative investigating the genetic origins of disease. 

The program, which will be co-managed by personnel in the company's Hacienda facilities, entails work done jointly by Roche divisions as well as work done in partnership with other companies. 

"Right now, there is a cross-divisional initiative between the pharmaceutical and diagnostic areas of Roche, the objective of which is to investigate the genetic foundations of disease," says Roche spokesperson Clelia Baur. "There are several common, complex diseases like obesity, osteoporosis, and asthma that have both environmental and genetic components to them. 

"Our research is designed to help in the effort to provide better disease management information to physicians and patients."

The company has recently made a number of moves in pursuit of this goal. Late last month, an alliance was finalized between Roche and deCODE genetics, an Icelandic research company. This five-year agreement, with a potential value of $300 million, will center around a combined effort to develop and market DNA-based diagnostics for common diseases. 

The alliance builds on Roche's industry-leading gene-based diagnostic tools and deCODE's expertise in population genomics, the analysis of the human genome in order to identify the correlation between genetic information and human health and disease. Among the objectives of this research is the development of new, actionable diagnostics that will be useful in early detection of disease, more efficient diagnoses, and better understanding of a patient's medical condition.

Roche officials travelled to Reykjavik, Iceland, to sign the agreement on July 16. 

The deCODE agreement is just one of several under the Roche initiative. In May, Roche entered into a multi-year, collaborative agreement with the Partners HealthCare System, a Massachusetts-based health care network. 

Thanks to this agreement, Roche and Partners have begun construction of a state-of-the-art DNA processing and genotyping laboratory for the study of disease susceptibility. 

While the Roche initiative promises to provide many landmarks, Baur cautions the day when someone will be able to take a test to determine if they'll ever get cancer or diabetes is still a long way off. 

"It's good to think of genetics-based nature of disease as incremental medical knowledge," she says. "Physicians have been using the study of genetics to help in disease management and patient care for a long time simply by looking at a patient's family history. This is an additional tool but it isn't a new concept."

That said, Baur still expresses enthusiasm over the company's efforts. "There are wonderful things that can be done in this area -- it has very broad potential," she says.

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