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Roche Shutting Down 454 Sequencing Business

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Roche is shuttering its 454 Life Sciences sequencing operations and laying off about 100 employees, the company confirmed today.

The 454 sequencers will be phased out in mid-2016, and the 454 facility in Branford, Conn., will be closed "accordingly," Roche said in a statement e-mailed to GenomeWeb Daily News.

The 100 layoffs will take place during the next three years, and, "Roche is committed to finding socially responsible solutions for the employees affected by these changes," it added.

Until the business is shut down, Roche will provide service and support to 454 instruments, parts, reagents, and consumables.

"Sequencing is a fast-evolving technology," the firm said. "With the continuous efforts of the sequencing unit in building a diverse pipeline of potentially differentiated sequencing technologies, Roche is committed to introducing differentiated and competitive products to the market and offer[ing] a sequencing product pipeline for both life science and clinical applications."

Roche bought 454 from Curagen in 2007 for $155 million in cash and stock, saying at the time the deal would solidify its access to future 454 sequencers and enable it to use the tools for in vitro diagnostic applications. Prior to the purchase, Roche had been 454's exclusive distributor starting in 2005.

Roche does not break out revenue figures for the 454 business, but in recent years, with the ascent of other sequencing technologies, the 454 instruments were pushed to the research margins. More recently, lower-throughput sequencers such as Illumina's MiSeq and Life Technologies' Ion Torrent systems have further moved the 454 technology toward irrelevance.

Over the past few years, Roche has made efforts to stay involved with the next wave of sequencing technologies in development. It forged alliances with IBM and DNA Electronics in 2010, and in early 2012 it made a hostile bid for Illumina that eventually reached a price tag of $6.7 billion — a bid that was rejected by Illumina.

After being rebuffed by Illumina, Roche continued trying to resuscitate its sequencing operations, and in December 2012, reports surfaced that Roche was again courting Illumina, though no deal materialized.

Then, earlier this year, Roche announced it had ended its deals with IBM and DNA Electronics, and said simultaneously it would shut down its R&D efforts in semiconductor sequencing and nanopore sequencing, resulting in about 60 layoffs at the Branford site.

The company said at the time that it was consolidating its 454 and NimbleGen products into a new sequencing unit covering both life science and clinical diagnostic applications. Dan Zabrowski, head of Roche Applied Science, who was to head the new sequencing unit, told In Sequence then, "We are fully committed to [our] life science business, and this decision did not have an impact on any of our businesses or customers. We continue to think that sequencing is going to play an important role in life science and in the clinic."

Roche is not abandoning the sequencing space entirely, though. Last month the firm forged a deal for up to $75 million with Pacific Biosciences to develop diagnostic products based on PacBio's SMRT technology.

"Roche sees great potential in this sequencing technology which offers unprecedented read length, accuracy, and speed for the development of future sequencing based applications in clinical diagnostics," Roche said.