For over 120 years, Roche’s primary contribution to improving global healthcare has been researching and developing new medicines and diagnostic tests that deliver significantly better treatment than those currently available. Our aim is to provide sustainable value by improving people’s health and by bringing clear medical and economic benefit to healthcare systems and society.
Innovating science in areas of high medical need
Our research and development (R&D) efforts are focused on translating our scientific understandings into new treatments in the areas of oncology, infectious diseases, cardiovascular, metabolism and neuroscience.
These disease areas are of epidemic concern globally. As life expectancy rises and lifestyles change they are expected to remain among the greatest burdens, affecting millions of people worldwide. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the biggest threat to health in low- and middle-income countries will be posed by non-communicable, or non-infectious, diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Roche is helping drive global efforts to reduce the burden caused by these diseases.
Addressing neglected diseases
Roche has a longstanding role in the diagnosis and treatment of neglected tropical diseases in some of the poorest countries. For example, our antimalarial drugs Lariam (mefloquine) and Fansidar (sulfadoxine/pyrimethamine) are off-patent and available for local generic production. We have also donated compounds and expertise in malaria drug development to the Medicines for Malaria Venture. For example, we donated all the rights and technology to manufacture benznidazole for the treatment of Chagas disease to the Brazilian government in 2003.
Developing essential medicines
Twenty-nine medicines developed by Roche are included in the WHO Model Lists of Essential Medicines. Twenty-five of these are patent-free and include life-saving antibiotics, anti-malarials and chemotherapy.
The WHO core list contains medicines believed to be required for a basic healthcare system, including the most efficacious, safe and cost effective medicines for priority conditions. The WHO Model List serves as a guide for the development of national and institutional essential medicine lists.
Using personalised healthcare to target treatment
Personalised Healthcare (PHC) aims to provide therapies that are tailored to different subgroups of patients. For some diseases, our diagnostic tests can identify those patients most likely to respond to a specific treatment or those more at risk of side effects caused by specific drug interventions. This helps physicians decide whom, how and when to treat their patients to deliver safer, more efficient treatment alternatives and ensure more efficient use of healthcare resources.
Diagnostics play a key role in developing targeted medicines and in combining drugs with sophisticated tests that assess whether a patient is likely to respond to treatment. Today, all our new compounds are developed in conjunction with a diagnostic programme.
Helping patients access new medicines
Each of our medicines must undergo a series of robust clinical trials to determine its safety and effectiveness before receiving approval by regulatory authorities. Every year around 320,000 people worldwide participate in our clinical trials, receiving standard of care treatment and potential access to our new medicines.
It is not possible, however, for all patients who might benefit from a new medicine to enrol in a clinical trial. Similarly, it isn’t possible to have clinical trials for all potential disease settings.
Roche understands the interest of those living with serious or life-threatening conditions in accessing new medicines as soon as possible. So under specific circumstances, and in compliance with applicable laws, Roche provides patients with pre-approval access to medicines outside of clinical trials and before regulatory approval.
Sharing intellectual property and our on-going legacy
Patents temporarily confer an exclusive right to market new products. This protection ensures that innovation is rewarded and the search for novel treatments continues. When the patents for a product expire, the information needed to manufacture it becomes freely available for others to use.
Over 120 million people are treated each year with Roche medicines that are off-patent but still manufactured by us. Many millions more receive generic versions of these medicines that are manufactured by other companies. This legacy is another way that Roche and other healthcare companies are providing a lasting contribution to world health.
Off-patent Roche medicines that have changed treatment paradigms and continue to contribute to global health long after patent expiry include:
- Lariam (mefloquine) and Fansidar (sulfadoxine/pyrimethamine) for malaria,
- Rimifon (isoniazid) for the treatment of tuberculosis,
- Radanil/ Rochagan (benznidazole) for Chagas disease, and
- antibiotics Bactrim (co-trimoxazole) and Rocephin (ceftriaxon).
No patents filed in the poorest countries
We recognise that flexibility around patents in some of the poorest countries can help broaden access to medicines. For that reason, we do not file for new patents or enforce existing patents in least developed countries (LDCs), as defined by the United Nations, or in low income countries (LICs), as defined by the World Bank. We also do not file or enforce patents for any antiretroviral HIV medicines in sub-Saharan African countries, where HIV/AIDS affects over 22.5 million people1.
Not applying patents in these regions enables generic versions of any Roche medicine to be produced and distributed in these countries without applying for a license. In addition, through our Technology Transfer Initiative we also help manufacturers in these countries to produce generic versions of our products.
1) Global report: UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic 2010. Regional HIV and AIDS statistics, 2001 and 2009; page 20.