Fritz Hoffmann-La Roche

Improving patients' lives for more than a century

Roche milestones

The founder of Roche, Fritz Hoffmann-La Roche, was a pioneering entrepreneur who was convinced that the future belonged to branded pharmaceutical products.



The founding year – first successes

F. Hoffmann-La Roche & Co. was founded at a time when industrial revolution was changing the face of Europe. On October 1, 1896, at the age of 28, Fritz Hoffmann-La Roche launched his company as the successor company to Hoffmann, Traub & Co. in Basel, Switzerland. He was among the first to recognize that the industrial manufacture of medicines would be a major advance in the fight against disease. Since then, Roche has grown into one of the world's leading healthcare companies.

Product packaging for Airol

Product Development

First products

Pharmacist Carl Schaerges, the first head of research, together with chemist Emil C. Barell demonstrate the presence of iodine in thyroid extracts. This results in Roche’s first patent and scientific publications.



Expansion and internationalization

Roche soon expands its business activities. From 1897 to 1910, the factory in Grenzach, Germany, is enlarged and the lion’s share of manufacturing moves there. Fritz Hoffmann-La Roche and his new partner Carl Meerwein waste little time in building a network of European and overseas agents and subsidiaries. By 1914 Roche has offices in Milan, New York, St. Petersburg, and London, among others.

  • Product poster for Sirolin

    Product Development

    Orange-flavoured success

    Roche produces a non-prescription cough syrup containing its own active ingredient, Thiocol. The orange-flavoured syrup is an almost immediate success. Launched under the trademark Sirolin in 1898, the syrup remains on the market for over 60 years.

  • Early Roche storefront in Basel

    Corporate Development

    Roche expands worldwide

    From 1897 to 1914 Roche expands worldwide, employing more than 700 people in Basel, Grenzach, Milan, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, St. Petersburg, London, New York and Yokohama. During this period, Roche strives for strong cooperation between academic circles and commercial developers. Until 1915, all Roche innovations result from such cooperation.



The time of crisis

The First World War has devastating repercussions for Roche. The German boycott of its products, Basel’s isolation from its plant in Grenzach, Germany, the loss of the company’s Russian market and assets in the revolution of 1917, and sizeable foreign exchange losses combine to create a financial crisis. In response, Roche is transformed legally into a limited company. Additionally, Roche bemoans the death of founding father and visionary Fritz Hoffmann in 1920. A glimmer of hope arises with the classic study by Markus Guggenheim of biogenic amines, which enhances Roche’s standing in the scientific community.

  • Fritz and Adele Hoffman-La Roche

    People of Roche

    Fritz Hoffmann dies

    Founding father Fritz Hoffmann dies of kidney disease on 18 April 1920, depriving Roche of a dynamic entrepreneur and a striking individual. “At every step it was [Fritz Hoffmann] who determined the company’s direction, guiding it to bigger and better things with his vision, restless energy, infectious spontaneity and indomitable optimism,” said Emil C. Barell in a eulogy for Hoffmann. Barell becomes the new Chief Executive.

  • Markus Guggenheim

    People of Roche

    First steps towards synthetic vitamins

    Markus Guggenheim publishes a classic study of biogenic amines in 1920. Roche begins marketing what it calls biochemicals. These include amino acids, peptides, proteins, cardiac glycosides, vitamins and hormones – all substances that the company originally produced for its own research projects. The biochemicals enhance Roche’s standing in the scientific community. In 1927 Guggenheim begins studying vitamin B1. His investigations include work with extracts of rice bran, which will ultimately contribute to the synthesis and production of vitamin B1 at Roche.

  • Alice Keller

    People of Roche

    Roche’s first woman executive

    Alice Keller, a 30-year-old native of Basel, boards ship to Japan in 1926. A PhD graduate in political economics she has worked at Roche Basel for about a year before accepting a post in Tokyo, where the company formed a subsidiary in 1925. She starts her role handling correspondence, revising documents and doing some of the billing and costing. When she returns in 1939, Keller has risen to the senior executive ranks of Direktorin – a sensational achievement for the times.

  • Two scientists working in an early industrial lab

    Product Development

    Strengthening of synthetic production

    In 1920, Roche produced an analgesic sedative and hypnotic drug, the first product to use compounds produced by synthetic chemistry. An industrial laboratory is built in Basel to develop synthetic processes.



Vitamin boost overcomes the crisis

Roche managed to overcome the crisis under the leadership of chairman Emil C. Barell. The company experienced an unexpected upsurge spurred by its vitamin production, which made the return to former prosperity possible. Roche is able to expand once more, launching its Canadian presence and building the US-American market with investments in New York and Nutley.

  • Early Roche plant in Nutley, New Jersey

    Corporate Development

    Investment in the USA

    Roche outgrows its New York offices, prompting the development and move to a new plant in Nutley, New Jersey in 1929 to manufacture a wide range of products.

  • Montreal, Quebec in 1931> 
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    Roche in Canada

    Our Canadian roots

    In 1931, Hoffmann-La Roche Limited is founded and incorporated in Montreal, Quebec, during the heart of the Great Depression. Total sales amount to $163,412. The total direct payroll (including social benefits) amounts to $12,987 for the staff of six.

  • Descending spiral staircase inside Building 21 in Basel

    Corporate Development

    Enlargement of Swiss headquarters

    In Basel, work proceeds on a new administration building designed by architect Otto R. Salvisberg. A native of Bern, Salvisberg has already made a name for himself with several projects in Berlin. Completed in 1935, the elegant simplicity of administrative Building 21 is impressive even today.

  • Tadeusz Reichstein

    Product Development

    Success story for vitamins

    Tadeusz Reichstein (Nobel Prize winner 1950) offers Roche a workable method of synthesizing vitamin C. A year later the first 50 kilograms of vitamin C are produced, marking the start of vitamin manufacturing at Roche. The first vitamin C preparation, Redoxon, is launched.

    Roche becomes the leading supplier of vitamins, having also mastered the industrial synthesis of vitamin A, B1, B2, E and K1. By 1938, vitamins are the company’s mainstay, encompassing Benerva (vitamin B1), Nestrovit (multi-vitamin), Beflavin (vitamin B2) and Ephynal (vitamin E).



Streamlining and improving production

Vitamin output increases and new production locations strengthen Roche’s position as one of the main producers of vitamins. To avoid a strong dependency on vitamins, Roche intensifies pharmaceutical research. Between the early 1950s and mid-1960s pharmaceutical research is extremely diverse, with a portfolio of pharmaceuticals ranging from antidepressants and antimicrobials to agents for cancer chemotherapy. During this period, Roche’s researchers discover a compound of the benzodiazepine class that sedates without causing drowsiness.

  • Tiered display of various Pantene products

    Corporate Development

    Roche enters the cosmetics sector

    In 1945 Roche establishes Pantene Corporation and affiliate cosmetic companies. The companies employ 4,000 – 1,200 alone in Basel and 2,000 in Nutley, USA.

  • Capsule with Roche branding

    Product Development

    Tranquilizer production starts

    In the mid-1950s a new group of sedatives, known as tranquilizers, is introduced into clinical use. Returning to a group of compounds he has worked on previously, Leo Sternbach chances upon benzodiazepines. Tranquilizers soon become one of Roche’s most important product segments. This success, combined with a push to streamline vitamin production, fuels a period of unprecedented growth.

  • Sample vials of Fluoro-uracil  on top of jigsaw pieces

    Product Development

    First anti-cancer drug

    Roche introduces its first anti-cancer drug in 1962, paving the way for Roche’s activities in the field of cancer chemotherapy.

  • Male researcher smelling perfume strip

    Corporate Development

    Expansion worldwide

    In 1963 Roche acquires Givaudan S.A., a leading manufacturer of fragrances and flavours. Givaudan is a longstanding customer for intermediates from Roche’s vitamin A production. Roche also acquires renowned French fragrance company Roure Bertrand Dupont in 1964. By 1965, Roche employs 19,000 people worldwide, compared with only 7,000 in 1953, and continues to form new subsidiaries around the globe, such as in India and Mexico.




Propelled by the success of the benzodiazepines, Roche diversifies across the entire spectrum of healthcare. In Canada, the company experiences a significant growth period, building new production facilities and offices, and establishing Canadian industry best practices. In Switzerland and the United States, bioelectronics departments are set up to develop electronic medical instruments. The acquisition of Dr. R. Maag AG, a plant protection company, reflects Roche’s growing involvement in agrochemicals.

This period also marks the start of Roche’s involvement in basic biomedical research. The company establishes the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology in Nutley, the Basel Institute for Immunology and the Nippon Research Center in Kamakura, Japan. A chemical accident at an Italian subsidiary is a major setback.

  • Early Canadian production site

    Roche in Canada

    Expansion into the Canadian market

    In the late 1960s, during the height of its growth, Roche Canada acquires 250 acres in the County of Vaudreuil, Quebec. The idea behind the project was to create a world-class, fully integrated, production site for pharmaceutical and major fine chemical products.

  • Barcoded containers of product lined up

    Roche in Canada

    A first of its kind

    In 1968, Roche becomes the first Canadian pharmaceutical company to place an uncoded expiration date on all products.

  • Early pregnancy test

    Corporate Development

    Roche enters diagnostics market

    The creation in 1968 of a department for diagnostic products marks Roche’s entry into a new sector. Apart from developing new diagnostic tests and automatic analyzers, objectives include setting up service laboratories to perform clinical analyses for hospitals and office-based physicians.

  • Business sector of a city

    Corporate Development

    Research institutes established internationally

    The Roche Institute of Molecular Biology opens in 1968 in Nutley. It is one of Roche’s first research and development centres. A year later, Roche opens the Basel Institute for Immunology. The first director is Niels Kaj Jerne, who later receives a Nobel Prize for medicine.

  • Roche administrative building in Vaudreuil, Quebec

    Roche in Canada

    Moving up

    In 1972, Roche Canada moves to the impressive Vaudreuil, Quebec, site comprised of a 12-story administration building with a superb auditorium, pharmaceutical and chemical buildings, a warehouse and a powerhouse capable of handling future expansion, all within a park-like setting. Situated on the shores of the Lake of Two Mountains, Roche acquires rights to pump millions of gallons of water daily for future production.

  • The Prix Galien medallion


    Prix Galien

    Roche’s anti-Parkinson drug wins the Prix Galien (1974), a prize created in France to honour innovative and valuable advances in drug therapy. This is the first of a series of prizes for Roche therapeutics that have become milestones in drug therapy, as well as the first of 27 awards for other Roche products.



Reform, concentration, and transparency

Roche begins to tighten its organizational structure and moves towards creating separate business units. Additionally, corporate activities are consolidated through acquisitions and divestments. After the corporate realignment, Roche operates with four core business divisions: Pharmaceuticals, Vitamins and Fine Chemicals, Diagnostics, and Flavours and Fragrances. Canadian operations shift focus and relocate, reflecting these global changes.

  • Office building with many windows

    Corporate Development

    Leap forward in cancer therapy

    In 1980 at the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology, a pure interferon alfa is isolated. Roche Nutley and Genentech, a biotech company based in South San Francisco, begin a joint project to produce a genetically engineered version of the substance.

  • Roche administrative building in Vaudreuil, Quebec

    Roche in Canada

    Consolidation in Canada

    In late 1982, a decision is made to stop pharmaceutical production in Canada. The Vaudreuil, Quebec, site thus becomes a financial burden and a decision is made to sell the property and consolidate operations.

  • Office building in Ontario

    Roche in Canada

    Making the Move to Ontario

    In 1983, the Canadian headquarters and marketing operations move to The West Mall in Etobicoke, Ontario; Vitamins and Fine Chemicals Division distribution moves to a rented warehouse in Brampton, Ontario; and the Pharmaceuticals and Diagnostics distribution functions and Diagnostics demo and repair and Quality Control move to Tilbury Court in Brampton, Ontario.

  • Niels Kaj Jerne and Georges Kohler

    People of Roche

    Nobel prizes

    Niels Kaj Jerne, the first director of the Basel Institute of Immunology, is awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine (1984) for his seminal work in immunology. The award is shared with César Milstein and Georges Köhler, co-discoverers of monoclonal antibodies.

    Susumu Tonegawa, a researcher at the Basel Institute for Immunology from 1972 to 1981, is awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine (1987) for his work on antibody gene segments. His fundamental discoveries later make possible the production of humanized antibodies.

  • Graphs and statistics

    Corporate Development

    Group structure created

    The corporate structure introduced in 1986 is extended and reinforced, preparing the way for separate operating divisions in 1990. The changes involve the formation of a holding company (Roche Holding AG), parallel to an increase in nominal share capital and in the number of bearer shares. The new structure gives Roche access to international capital markets.

  • Roche location in Mississauga

    Roche in Canada

    From Brampton to Mississauga

    In 1990, Roche sells the Tilbury Court building in Brampton, completes the leases at the Brampton and Etobicoke locations and moves into a new facility in Mississauga.



International expansion and innovative developments

Through its commitment to research and innovation, Roche continues to make steady advances in drug therapy that will replace more expansive treatments and shorten hospital stays.

  • Female diagnostic worker in full sanitary suit, mask, and goggles

    Corporate Development

    Rights to PCR strengthen Diagnostics Division

    Roche acquires the worldwide marketing rights to the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) from Cetus Corporation in 1991. Capable of detecting minute amounts of genetic material, the technique opens the way to developing diagnostic tests that are fast, sensitive and specific for a broad spectrum of medical and research uses.

  • Microscopic view of antibody cells

    Product Development

    Roche drugs tackle cancer

    A series of innovative drugs for cancer treatment are developed starting in the mid-90s including an early personalized medicine — a humanized antibody designed to target and block a protein produced by a specific gene with cancer-causing potential. Additionally, Roche launches a treatment for those living with the most common form of adult leukemia.

  • Microscopic view of HIV-protease inhibitor

    Product Development

    Roche drugs take on HIV

    Roche launches the first HIV-protease inhibitor and wins the Prix Galien in 1999. An additional HIV treatment is launched which blocks the virus from entering the human immune cell (awarded Prix Galien in 2004).

  • Cobas Amplicor analyzer machine

    Product Development

    Innovation in diagnostics

    The Diagnostics Division launches a series of products in the mid-1990s in all areas of medical testing: cobas Integra, a clinical chemistry and immunochemistry analyzer; cobas Core II, an immunochemistry analyzer; cobas Amplicor, an analyser based on PCR technology; and Accutrend and Accu-Chek, an innovative product line that offers more convenient diabetes management and virtually pain-free testing for diabetics.

  • Medical illustration

    Product Development

    Preventing and treating influenza

    In 1999, Roche introduces its oral antiviral treatment, not a vaccine, for influenza. It belongs to a class of medicines called neuraminidase inhibitors.

  • Roche location in Mississauga

    Roche in Canada

    Syntex joins the Roche Group

    In 1994, Roche acquires Syntex Corporation, a pharmaceutical group headquartered in Palo Alto, USA. To accommodate the additional Syntex employees, Roche expands its facility at 2455 Meadowpine Blvd. in Mississauga by 40,000 square feet. The acquisition makes Roche the world’s fourth largest pharmaceutical company.

  • Roche diagnostic headquarters in Laval, Quebec

    Corporate Development

    Acquisitions increase diversification

    In 1998, Roche acquires Boehringer Mannheim, one of the world's diagnostics leaders, making Roche a major player in the in-vitro diagnostics healthcare industry. With this acquisition, Roche Diagnostics bases its Canadian head office in Laval, Quebec. In 2001, as a result of its growth, Roche Diagnostics doubles its warehouse facility. In 2007, Roche invests $20 million to renovate and expand its existing building.



Company restructures to focus on biotech

Roche ranks among the world’s leading healthcare companies with its expertise in two core businesses – Diagnostics and Pharmaceuticals. Combined with its strength in biotechnology, the company paves the way to the future of healthcare with innovations in areas such as personalized healthcare.

  • Roche flag outside of an office

    Corporate Development

    Focus on two core businesses

    To intensify its focus on healthcare, Roche divests two businesses: fragrances and flavours, and vitamins and fine chemicals. As a research-driven company committed to innovation, the Group’s Pharmaceuticals and Diagnostics Divisions supply products spanning the healthcare spectrum, from the early detection and prevention of disease to diagnosis and treatment. Combining the strengths and expertise of both divisions, Roche plays an increasingly important role in shaping the future of medicine by contributing to the personalized healthcare approach.

  • Female researcher looking through microscope

    Research Institutions

    International research activity

    In 2004, Roche is the first global healthcare company to establish a research and development centre at the Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park in Shanghai, China. Wholly owned and operated by Roche, the centre supports the company’s worldwide research and development activities and its business development efforts in China. The Shanghai site is an important addition to the Group’s R&D facilities in the United States, Japan, and Europe.

  • Roundabout in front of Chugai office building

    Corporate Development

    Engagement in the Japanese market

    Roche and Chugai enter into an alliance to create a research-driven pharmaceutical company in Japan, the world’s second-largest pharma market. The new enterprise – formed in 2002 by the merger of Nippon Roche and Chugai and named Chugai Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. – is the 5th largest pharmaceuticals company operating in Japan. Chugai Pharmaceutical specializes in prescription pharmaceuticals, with strengths in biotechnology.

  • Male child smiling in a group of other children

    Social Engagement

    Helping children in need

    In 2003, employees launch the Roche Children’s Walk, a fundraiser in support of children’s projects in the communities where Roche operates, as well as in developing countries such as Malawi, Ethiopia and the Philippines. On a set day each year, approximately 50,000 employees in more than 100 locations, walk together to raise funds and awareness for children’s projects around the world.

  • Ripple in a pool of blue water

    Corporate Development

    Responsible business practices acknowledged

    In 2004 Roche is recognized as a leader in healthcare in two of the world’s foremost sustainability indices, the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index and the Dow Jones STOXX Sustainability Index. Previously, Roche was listed in the UK’s FTSE4Good Index, which measures corporate performance against accepted standards of social responsibility. Inclusion in these important indexes underlines Roche’s commitment to responsible business practice and sustainable long-term value creation.

  • Two children smiling through a small opening in glass

    Social Engagement

    Global collaboration

    Roche becomes a founding member of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Corporate Support Group in 2005. Roche joins several other companies in forging a partnership to provide long-term strategic support for the humanitarian mission of the Red Cross. This commitment reinforces Roche’s commitment to global humanitarian relief through 100 years of support for the ICRC.



Moving towards personalized healthcare

The increased focus on innovation and biotechnology lead to important advances in diagnostic techniques and medicines aimed at molecular targets. The full integration with biotech pioneer Genentech in 2009 follows acquisitions of other key players in life science research, gene sequencing and tissue diagnostics. Canadian operations expand and a global Pharmaceutical Development headquarter site is launched in Mississauga, Ontario. These strengthen Roche’s access to innovation and new technologies and drive its commitment to more targeted treatments that, ultimately, make personalized healthcare a reality.

  • Cells from the view of a microscope lens

    Corporate Development

    Acquisitions bring new diagnostic technologies

    A series of key acquisitions bring important technologies to Roche Diagnostics:

    BioVeris allows expansion of its immunochemistry business into new segments such as life science development, drug discovery, drug development and clinical trials. NimbleGen brings access to DNA microarrays, which are widely used as discovery and research tools in pharma research. 454 Life Sciences gives access to future generations of sequencing products and the use of 454 Sequencing for in-vitro diagnostic applications.

  • Patient with IV holding hands with a loved one

    Corporate Development

    Meeting medical challenges through personalized healthcare

    Drawing on a unique combination of strengths in pharmaceuticals and diagnostics and on a deep understanding of molecular biology, Roche places personalized healthcare (PHC) at the centre of its business strategy. PHC is seen as a key enabler for delivering clinically differentiated medicines. With pharmaceuticals and diagnostics under one roof, the two divisions collaborate at the earliest stages of research to identify better drug targets and the patient groups who will benefit most from new medicines.

  • Tissue being sampled

    Corporate Development

    Tissue diagnostics strengthened

    Roche acquires US-based Ventana Inc. in 2008. The tissue-based diagnostics specialist produces diagnostic instrument and reagent systems for use in clinical histology and for researching new active ingredients. This marks a major addition to Roche’s diagnostics portfolio.

  • Genentech flag flying next to an American flag

    Corporate Development

    Integration with Genentech

    Genentech becomes a wholly owned member of the Roche Group in 2009. Considered the founder of the biotechnology industry, Genentech maintained close ties with Roche throughout its history. The combined portfolios of both companies form the world’s largest biotech company, focused on using human genetic information to develop medicines for patients with serious or life-threatening medical conditions. Innovation is enhanced by sharing intellectual property and technologies while maintaining a diversity of research approaches.

  • Cobas 8000 diagnostics system

    Product Development

    New high-performance diagnostics system

    The cobas 8000 diagnostics system launches in 2009. Its modular components can be combined in various ways to form high-performance test lines. The system is designed for high-workload laboratories and can process 8,400 tests per hour.

  • Water droplet on the tip of a leaf

    Social Engagement

    Recognition for sustainable business practices

    In 2007 Roche receives the first Financial Times Citi Private Bank Environment Award for the greatest improvement in carbon efficiency by a large enterprise both on a European and a global level. In 2010 Roche is recognized as the most sustainable healthcare company worldwide. Named Supersector Leader in Healthcare in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the first time, Roche goes on to consistently win the award in subsequent years.

  • Roche flag flying next to the Canadian and Swiss flags

    Roche in Canada

    Making scientific innovation a priority for Canada

    In 2011, Roche Canada becomes the new home of a Global Product Development site and plays a leadership role in worldwide clinical trials. Through this project, Roche invests more than $190 million in Ontario.

  • New Roche building in Mississauga

    Roche in Canada

    A new home for Roche Canada

    In October 2013, Roche Canada moves into a brand new facility at 7070 Mississauga Road, Ontario, relocating its employees to a vibrant facility that fosters collaboration and teamwork, and is reflective of Roche’s truly innovative culture.

  • Young woman looking into the distance

    Corporate Development

    Purpose Statement

    A new unifying and inspiring Roche purpose statement is launched globally: Doing now what patients need next.

  • Illustration of a signal transduction inhibitor

    Product Development

    New active ingredients in the fight against cancer

    In 2012 and 2013, Roche launches a series of innovative treatments for specific types of cancer, including a signal pathway inhibitor for the treatment of basal cell carcinomas as well as the first antibody drug conjugate developed by Roche, marking the introduction of two new treatments in breast cancer.

  • Cells under a microscope

    Product Development

    New tests to detect cancer

    Several novel tests for the detection of different types of cancer hold promise for more effective tumour treatment in the future. The CINtec PLUS cytology test for fully automated cell-based cervical cancer screening rounds out Roche’s portfolio of tests as an aid in early detection of this type of cancer.