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Roche Reports Drop in Applied Science Sales, Provides Update on Cancer Companion Dx

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This article has been updated to include comments from Roche.

By Justin Petrone

Roche last week reported a decline in Applied Science revenues for the fourth quarter and full year of 2011. In its annual report and call with investors, the Swiss company also provided an update on the development of an array-based companion diagnostic and discussed its planned acquisition of Illumina.

The company noted in its annual report that it has a microarray-based companion diagnostic in "late development." The test will be used to select patients carrying the p53 mutation for their ability to metabolize a compound being developed by Merck for treating cancer. Roche announced in 2010 a deal with Merck that would allow the latter to use Roche's p53 AmpliChip for cancer research (BAN 2/23/2010).

The chip, which is manufactured by Affymetrix, is designed to detect mutations in the tumor suppressor gene p53 and could potentially lead to better treatment outcomes for cancer patients by determining which patients would most likely respond to investigational drug candidates, Roche said at the time.

Company officials did not discuss the companion test in a call with investors, but they did touch on Roche's recent $5.7 billion bid to acquire Illumina (BAN 1/31/2012).

In the call, Chief Operating Officer Daniel O'Day described the two firms' portfolios as "complementary in terms of the sequencing and the microarray business."

O'Day said that Roche's 454 Life Sciences unit and Illumina's sequencing business "can work very well together," but he did not discuss how Roche NimbleGen and Illumina's respective array portfolio would match up. Roche NimbleGen and Illumina are competitive in several application areas. Both companies have announced plans to submit to the US Food and Drug Administration array-based offerings for use in clinical cytogenetics (BAN 1/17/2011). Illumina and Roche NimbleGen also offer rival copy number variation analysis and methylation profiling arrays.

When asked about the future of Illumina's array business, should its bid to acquire the firm be successful, a Roche spokesperson said that the "combined capabilities of Roche’s Diagnostic Division and Illumina will strengthen Roche's position in sequencing and microarrays to address the growing demand for genetic and genomics solutions," the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that Roche does not intend to divest Illumina's microarray business, should it acquire the firm.

In its annual report, Roche highlighted several "key" Roche NimbleGen product launches in 2011. These included its solution-phase SeqCap EZ Choice and SeqCap EZ Exome products for sequence capture, and two high-density arrays: its 4.2 million marker comparative genomic hybridization array and its 2.1 million marker CGH/SNP array (BAN 3/29/2011).

Despite these product introductions, revenues of Roche Applied Science's genomic analysis business, which consists of 454 Life Sciences and Roche NimbleGen, fell 11 percent in 2011 compared to the previous year, excluding currency effects. Roche did not break out quarterly revenue for the genomic analysis business, but based on a graph in the firm's presentation, full-year sales for the business were on the order of CHF 150 million.

Applied Science's total revenues decreased 3 percent year-over-year in 2011, to CHF 740 million ($809 million) while fourth-quarter revenues for Roche Applied Science declined six percent, to CHF 196 million, from CHF 222 million during the fourth quarter of 2010.

In comparison, Roche reported a 17 percent increase in Applied Science revenues for FY 2010 (BAN 2/8/2011). The firm blamed its 2011 shortfall on increased competition in the sequencing market and research funding constraints.

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