Roche CEO describes future plans for Ventana Medical Systems

November 5, 2008

By hammersmith

As it turns out, the biggest kid on the block is playing nice.

Nine months after completing its acquisition of Oro Valley’s Ventana Medical Systems Inc., the Swiss pharmaceuticals and diagnostics giant Roche Holding AG has provided the clearest signals yet that it intends not only to keep Ventana in southern Arizona, but in fact to expand the firm’s presence there.

On Oct. 28, Roche CEO Severin Schwan addressed a gathering of Arizona bioscience and business leaders during his fourth visit to Ventana headquarters since the merger. He confirmed that Hany Massarany, currently Ventana’s chief operating officer, will become president and chief executive officer upon the end-of-the-year retirement of Christopher Gleeson, who has led Ventana since 1999.

Schwan also said that Ventana would grow from its current total of 750 southern-Arizona employees to around 1,000 by the end of 2009, becoming a central hub for Roche’s research-and-development efforts in diagnostic testing. Since the merger closed, Ventana has purchased an additional 17 acres to expand its campus at a cost of $8.9 million.

Roche, which describes itself as the largest biotechnology company in the world, has made half a dozen acquisitions over the past year. When the firm conducts a merger, Schwan said in the Tucson Citizen, it seeks to preserve the acquired company’s culture–thus, the promotion of Massarany, and no talk of moving Ventana’s operations to a different Roche site.

“We have very dedicated, very qualified people around the world, but Tucson stands out,” Schwan said in the Citizen. “You have to trust the people you give the money to.”

Originally focused on engineering automated slide-preparation devices, Ventana has, over the past decade, branched out into developing diagnostic tests, such as one that can identify in human tissue the gene HER2, which increases an individual’s likelihood of positive response to the breast-cancer drug Herceptin. (Roche holds a majority interest in Genentech, the maker of Herceptin.)

Roche envisions the future of health care as increasingly predicated on knowing detailed information about individuals’ genetic and proteomic profiles. In such a future, Schwan indicated, new diagnostic tests like those Ventana develops become as important as new drugs.

“The combination of drugs and diagnostics will get much more important as we progress,” Schwan said in the Arizona Daily Star. “Ventana is an important pillar in this,” he added in the Citizen. “Direct examination of tissue is very important information. In Tucson we have found the right partner.”

In his remarks at the gathering of bioscience and business leaders, Gleeson said that Roche’s commitment to partnership is being demonstrated both through financial investment and through encouragement to continue exploring new opportunities. Roche will invest $100 million in Ventana in 2009.

“The entrepreneurial spirit has stayed at Ventana,” Gleeson said in the Daily Star.

Ventana spokesperson Alana Bolton said that Gleeson’s retirement was planned before his company was acquired by Roche and that the timing was unrelated to the takeover.

“It is supported by Roche and they have every confidence in (Massarany),” Bolton said in the Citizen.

For more information:

Roche has big plans for Ventana,” Arizona Daily Star, 10/29/2008

New CEO, growth ahead for Ventana Medical Systems,” Tucson Citizen, 10/28/2008