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Roche snaps up biotech firm GlycArt

Roche is expanding research into cancer drugs (Roche)

The Roche pharmaceuticals group is acquiring a Swiss developer of biotech cancer drugs, GlycArt, for about SFr235 million ($180.2 million).

The deal is seen as boosting Roche’s position as the world’s leading producer of cancer medicines.

GlycArt Biotechnology of Schlieren near Zurich is a privately owned biotech company which has three monoclonal antibody drugs in preclinical testing.

Such antibodies are mass-produced artificial versions of the proteins made by the immune system that seek out and destroy specific targets.

Roche chairman and CEO Franz Humer said in a statement on Tuesday that the acquisition was "an excellent strategic fit" with its focus on developing proteins and antibodies for areas of unmet medical need, such as oncology.

"We are excited about this significant addition of cutting-edge technology to our R&D organization," he added.

Expanding pipeline

GlycArt has been cooperating with Roche since last September, with its CEO Joël Jean-Mairet commenting that his company looked forward to continuing to contribute to Roche’s expanding antibody pipeline.

"We are delighted to become an integral part of the Roche Group, and believe that Roche’s outstanding capabilities in biopharmaceutical R&D, manufacturing and commercialisation will give our product candidates and technologies an excellent opportunity to realise their full potential," he said.

GlycArt also owns technology called GlyoMAb glycosylation that increases the potency of antibodies targeted at undesirable cells.

Roche plans to maintain GlycArt’s facility near Zurich as a fully integrated part of the Roche Pharma research organisation.

The deal is expected to close in the third quarter of this year.

Influenza file

In another development on Tuesday, Roche filed in Europe for a new indication for Tamiflu in the prevention of influenza (prophylaxis use) in children aged one to 12 years.

Tamiflu is already indicated for the treatment of influenza in adults and children aged one year and above, and for the prevention of influenza in adults and adolescents 13 years and older.

Roche said that children younger than two years old were as likely as people over age 65 to be admitted to hospital because of influenza. It is estimated that children are three times more likely to get sick with the flu – on average, one in ten adults is affected by influenza annually, compared with one in three children.

The Roche group is due to announce its first-half financial figures on Wednesday, with analysts forecasting that sales in the second quarter will rise by up to ten per cent over the comparable period last year.

Sales in the first quarter were SFr8.09 billion or 14 per cent up on the January – March figure for the previous year. Turnover in the pharmaceuticals division grew three times as fast as the global market.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

GlycArt was founded in September 2000 as a spin-off company from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.
The company has a staff of about 30 at its facility in Schlieren near Zurich.
Net profit at Roche more than doubled in 2004 to SFr6.6 billion on sales of SFr29.5 billion, above the market average.

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