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Roche Molecular Plans to Double Genomics Staff Over Next 12 Months

NEW YORK, June 15 – Roche’s Molecular Diagnostics unit in Pleasanton, Calif., plans to double its genomics staff to about 100 people over the next six to 12 months, the head of the company’s genomics effort said.

“We think the time is right from a market point of view and maturity of technology [to expand the genomics effort],” Thomas Metcalfe, senior vice president of Roche’s genomics business told GenomeWeb. “For a long time it’s been difficult to do anything but identify monogenetic variants. We think we can identify more complex variants in the near term.”

The comments come on the heels of Roche’s decision to slash 3,000 jobs, or 5 percent, from its worldwide operations over the next two to three years. About nine hundred jobs will be cut from its operations in Nutley, NJ, 200 from its Palo Alto, Calif., facility, 700 from Welwyn Garden City, UK, and 600 from headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. 

But, according Roche, only non-research jobs will be eliminated. And the number of genomics jobs will grow as the company seeks to bring new diagnostic products to market.

Metcalfe pointed to a chip being developed with Affymetrix using the cyctochrome P450 super family of enzyme complexes. The chip is being designed to incorporate a variety of the most common variants of the enzyme. The P450 enzyme complex is responsible for variations in how different people metabolize different types of drugs. Roche plans to commercialize the chips in approximately 18 to 24 months, said Metcalfe. 

This microarray-based assay will be Roche Molecular Diagnostics’ first product introduced on its new platform, according to Roche Molecular Diagnostics director of pharmacogenetics Walter Koch.

The diagnostics division is also looking to partner with pharmaceutical companies, its own and others, to develop diagnostic tools and other products, said Koch.

“The early products out of genomics will be in the diagnosis arena,” Koch said. “Roche wants to take advantage of this.”

And in order for Roche to leverage its expertise in both diagnostics and pharmaceuticals, the company has created a bridge entity called Roche Genetics. 

“The key to the future is marrying in an appropriate fashion diagnostics and therapy,” said John Hill, head of genomic and information sciences at Roche Pharmaceuticals. “[There is the] question of how to bring that about when two divisions are separate entities within a corporation. Roche Genetics was created as way to build on the strength of diagnostics and pharmaceuticals.”

Hill added: “The goal is to improve the overall process, not pieces. Otherwise you just move the bottleneck somewhere else.”

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