Roche, successes and setbacks

By Alfred Bouchaud

Over the past few years, the digitalization of healthcare has been tremendous as exemplified by digital pills which contain an electronic sensor transmitting medical data after it is consumed. Digital health companies transform the medical industry by collecting medical information. The 2012 startup mySugr is one of them as it proposed app-based process to monitor blood glucose levels and to share it with doctors. According to the World Health Organization, diabetes is a global epidemic that affects more than 422 million people worldwide. Thus, self-managing this deadly disease is crucial. In 2017, the Basel-based group Roche undertook the acquisition of mySugr which is now counts more than a million users. This deal enables the Swiss laboratory to strengthen its dominant position in dealing with diabetes as well as its heavyweight status in the pharmaceutical field. Indeed, Roche’s revenues during 2018 reached approximately 57 billion dollars, which make it the third-largest pharmaceutical company. However, the multinational was involved in various scandals which tarnished its image. In 1973, Roche was fined for breaking antitrust laws in price fixing and market sharing for vitamins. It also pleaded guilty in 1999 again for having participated in a price conspiracy of vitamins sold on a global scale and had to pay a 500 million dollars fine. Besides, Roche has recently been faced with fierce competition on medical patents and medicines substitutes rollout by its competitors, which could threaten its market shares. Its breast cancer treatment Herceptin, its blood cancer medicine MaThera as well as another cancer drug Avastin have all been copied. The first two ones copies were allowed to enter the market in 2017 while Avastin will remain protected by patent until 2020. However, Hemlibra for haemophilia and Tecentriq for lung cancer marked two successful medicine trials in the end of 2017, which may allow Roche to compete with its rival Merck in treating lung cancer.

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