The history of Roche Diagnostics GmbH in Indianapolis began in the garage of Willard (Bill) Eason, who left his position as a chemical engineer at the Ford Motor Company to create diagnostic equipment. He created the Unimeter to test blood glucose levels at the point of care rather than having to send blood to a laboratory. The Unimeter was the first diagnostics equipment of its kind, and it revolutionized diabetes care. He founded Bio-Dynamics, which operated on Hague Road in the 1960s, to produce the Unimeter and to continue research and development. The Unimeter became the Accu-Chek brand, which has saved millions of lives.

In 1974, Boehringer acquired Bio-Dynamics, and moved its headquarters to Indianapolis the following year. Boehringer Mannheim Corporation was part of an international group of privately held Boehringer Mannheim companies, the oldest and largest founded in Germany in 1859. Boehringer began U.S. operations in New York in 1964, selling biochemicals and reagent tests. With this acquisition, Boehringer moved into the development of blood glucose monitoring devices for diabetics. Boehringer grew rapidly during the 1980s, constructing several new buildings on its 200-acre far northeastside campus. A 1988 estimate ranked Boehringer as the world’s second-largest medical diagnostic devices company.

In March 1998 Roche Holding Ltd, Switzerland acquired Corange Ltd, a Bermuda-based holding company of the Boehringer Mannheim Group, Amsterdam. Boehringer Mannheim was integrated into the Roche Group and changed its name to Roche Diagnostics GmbH.

From 2000 to 2006 Roche focused on two core businesses in its drive to become a world-leading healthcare company. Innovations in diagnostics and pharmaceuticals coupled with its strength in biotechnology advanced Roche’s personalized healthcare business but not before divesting itself of its fragrances and flavors, and vitamins and fine chemicals businesses.

The pharmaceuticals and diagnostics division produced innovations in the early detection, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases. This division helped shape the role of medicine with personalized healthcare. Innovations in biotechnology also led to advances in diagnostic techniques and medicines. These breakthroughs allowed for earlier detection and specific treatment of many diseases.

From 2005 to September 2020 Roche has engaged in 48 successful mergers and acquisitions to remain competitive in the personalized healthcare industry. Many of Roche’s industry peers such as Merck & Co., Pfizer, Inc., and even Eli Lilly struggle to have innovative research and development departments which forces them to collaborate with smaller start-up biotechnology firms and ultimately take over, either in mutually agreed upon deals or hostile takeovers. Roche has expanded beyond Indianapolis as a result of such mergers and acquisitions, but so has its Indianapolis footprint. It’s North American headquarters in Indianapolis has expanded over the years to accommodate the influx of employees coming from the biotechnology firms that Roche acquires.

Two key acquisitions in 2007 and 2008 paved the way for Roche to enter life science research, gene sequencing, and tissue diagnostics. In 2007, Roche acquired BioVeris in a deal valued at $600 million ($756,958,069 in 2021). The company expanded its immunochemistry division leading to drug discovery, life science development, drug development, and clinical trials. In April 2008, Roche bought NibleGen in a deal valued at $273 million ($331,860,868 in 2021). With this move, Roche entered the DNA microarray business, widely used as discovery and research tools in pharmaceutical research.

Roche’s biggest acquisition and most studied by MBA students occurred in March 2009 when Roche acquired biotechnology pioneer Genentech in a deal valued at $46.8 billion. Genetech had developed Roche’s top-selling cancer drugs Avastin, Herceptin, and Rituxan. The deal took place in the backdrop of the 2008 recession and with the idea to inject Genentech’s innovative and entrepreneurial work culture at Roche. Roche’s strategy to merge two companies with different work cultures continues to make the details of the acquisition a classic case study in business schools.

Roche Indianapolis is the North American headquarters of the world’s largest biotech company. At this headquarters, more than 4,000 people work together in the development of truly differentiated medicines in oncology, immunology, infectious diseases, ophthalmology, and diseases of the central nervous system. Roche is also the world leader in in-vitro diagnostics and tissue-based cancer diagnostics, and a frontrunner in diabetes management.

In the fight against the coronavirus outbreak in 2020 Roche proved to be an indispensable collaborator to the U.S. government. On March 13, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration granted Roche an emergency use authorization for its commercial test system to diagnose SARS-CoV-2. The SARS-CoV-2 Test uses Roche’s Cobas 6800/8800 diagnostic system to detect the virus which causes COVID-19, yielding results in three and a half hours. Within a week of the announcement 800,000 tests were shipped to a network of hospitals and laboratory testing sites across the nation.

Six months into the COVID-19 pandemic Roche improved its COVID-19 test. The company announced on September 22, 2020 the new test more accurately measured the number of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in patients who had been exposed to the virus, helping to determine the patient’s potential immunity to the virus. The development of this new test marked the twelfth in Roche’s portfolio of SARS-Co-V-2 tests. 2021

In May 2021 Roche announced that new data from clinical trials of 19 approved and investigated medicines across 20 cancer types would advance oncology by showing the importance of making patient-centric treatment decisions and providing tailored medical care based on specific cancer types. Strikingly, compelling data from the first positive phase 3 study of cancer immunotherapy in early resected lung cancer may provide new hope for patients with earlier-stage disease. 

Revised March 2021

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