A boost for NGS diagnostics

Roche expands sequencing unit with acquisition of Signature Diagnostics

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PLEASANTON, Calif.—Roche has extended its recent run of acquisitions with the purchase of Signature Diagnostics AG, a privately held German translational oncology and genomics company. The move is intended to bolster Roche’s sequencing unit and accelerate its development of targeted next-generation sequencing (NGS)-based diagnostics. “Roche believes focused and high-quality next-generation sequencing assays using blood samples have the capacity to become cost-effective diagnostic tools for monitoring patients with cancer,” Dan Zabrowski, head of Roche Tissue Diagnostics and the Roche Sequencing Unit, tells DDNews. “We plan to leverage Signature’s unique expertise in both biobanks and cfDNA (cell-free DNA) tests to develop targeted diagnostics in the future.”
Signature’s most valuable asset for Roche may be its large tumor tissue and plasma biobanks that cover multiple cancers, including colorectal and lung cancer. The company has created these biobanks within the framework of large multicenter prospective clinical studies. Among its key products are longitudinal plasma samples from cancer patients. Zabrowski explains that Roche sees high-quality, comprehensive cancer biobanks as holding great potential when matched tumor tissue and plasma samples are combined with extensive clinical annotation. The company believes that such a resource could lead to the development of assays that identify the causes and mechanisms of resistance to treatment and disease recurrence.
“Having access to such unique biobanks is a key component in the development of novel NGS diagnostics,” says Zabrowski.
In addition to its biobanks, Signature has already developed several next-generation sequencing assays using targeted gene panels that are used for research purposes. The company has built expertise in developing ultra-deep sequencing tests that utilize cfDNA.
Roche hopes that its effort to develop effective NGS diagnostics will benefit from Signature’s expertise in both biobanks and cfDNA testing. “Biobanks play an important role in uncovering the cause or origin of disease such as cancer, which is important in translational research and the development of personalized therapies for patients,” said Roland Diggelmann, chief operating officer of Roche Diagnostics, in an official statement. “Signature represents a unique bridge between high-value cancer biobanks and NGS assay development.”
Signature was founded in 2004 and is currently based in Potsdam, Germany. It appears that the firm will continue to operate much as it has previously under the corporate umbrella of Roche. Signature will be integrated into the Roche Sequencing Unit and will continue to focus on expanding its genomic signature portfolio. “Signature is a strong company with excellent management,” says Zabrowski. “We plan to engage in a limited integration and expect Signature will act as a standalone enterprise.” Neither company has disclosed the financial terms of the acquisition.
“We are very pleased Roche recognizes the importance of high-quality longitudinal cancer biobanks for the development of novel NGS-based diagnostics,” said Andre Rosenthal, CEO of Signature, in the news release about the deal. “Joining forces with Roche is very exciting, as it will allow us to further develop our NGS assays for sequencing tests using cfDNA, which may advance the development of non-invasive treatment response monitoring for cancer patients.”
The purchase of Signature is just one of several recent acquisitions by Roche. Within the last year, it has also purchased Intermune, Genia Technologies, Santaris, Seragon Pharmacueticals and Bina Technologies. The Swiss firm recently posted a 16-percent drop in annual profits for 2014 but predicted profits and sales to increase significantly in 2015.
While Roche’s recent acquisitions may fit into a broader strategy for the company, the merger with Signature also serves the more specific goals of the company’s sequencing unit. “The strategy for Roche Sequencing is to advance NGS through an integrated genomics portfolio that provides our customers with a complete, end-to-end testing solution,” Zabrowski tells DDNews. “To this end, we are focused on developing an NGS workflow solution encompassing four key areas: sample preparation, platforms and technology, informatics and diagnostic testing menu.” Zabrowski says the sequencing unit is making significant internal investments in potential breakthrough technologies as well as seeking innovative technologies that are being developed by other companies.

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