Roche CEO would not exclude move into rare diseases

Wed Oct 23, 2013 6:38am EDT
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PARIS (Reuters) - Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding AG would not exclude a move into treatments for rare diseases, its CEO said on Wednesday, even if this represented very small numbers of patients.

Chief executive Severin Schwan told a news conference in Paris that Roche's main criteria in terms of disease was not the size of the patient population but how much additional value and medical benefit could be generated for the individual patient.

Asked if that meant he did not exclude a move into rare diseases, he said: "We go where the science takes us, wherever it is, independent from the size of the patient population."

There has been speculation that Roche might branch out into the lucrative area of rare or so-called orphan diseases after reports it was considering bids for two U.S.-based companies.

Shares in biotechnology group Alexion Pharmaceuticals jumped in July after people familiar with the matter said Roche was seeking financing for a possible bid. No offer has emerged.

Roche has also been linked to BioMarin Pharmaceuticals, although the company denied last month it was raising financing for a bid following a report.

Schwan declined to comment specifically on whether the company was interested in buying Alexion or BioMarin.

High prices and lower development and marketing costs of treatments for orphan diseases are drawing the attention of big pharmaceutical companies as older drugs lose patent protection.

But Roche's group head of pharmaceuticals said in an interview last month that treating ultra-rare diseases was a distinct business from Roche's current area of expertise.   Continued...

Roche CEO Severin Schwan speaks during the annual news conference in Basel January 30, 2013. REUTERS/Michael Buholzer