Unlike many companies that begin with a product, Roche was founded on an idea — a commitment to patients that we would create consistent and reliable medicines people could trust — in an era before standardized treatments were widely available. This commitment to improving patients’ lives continues today through our efforts to develop innovative, scientifically proven medicines and diagnostics that help fill unmet medical needs.
Throughout the years, we’ve sought to find innovative solutions to common problems. And while we have always maintained our focus on improving health, innovation rarely follows a straight path. We look at where there’s medical need and follow the science, wherever it takes us. Along the way we have discovered many things, some of which have changed the way diseases are diagnosed or treated, and some that have impacted other industries in surprising ways, a few of which we’d like to share with you.1
We have a history of leading groundbreaking medical research
In 1914, researchers at Roche led the way in early diabetes research, showing that injecting purified pancreatic extract caused a rapid drop in blood sugar. This work brought us close to isolating insulin, however, development of a treatment using this pancreatic extract was delayed by the First World War. Six years later, Canadian researchers Frederick Banting, Charles Best, John Macleod and James Collip found that the pancreas contains a substance capable of controlling diabetes. Banting and Macleod received the Nobel prize for medicine in 1923 for their discovery of insulin, the same year that our first diabetes product entered the market.
We invented the first disposable syringe
In 1915, we launched the very first ready-to-use syringe called "Tubunic Roche." This game-changing device was patented and for a period, we were the only pharmaceutical company offering these prefilled syringes. Tubunic became widely known when it was used to treat altitude sickness on the Shackleton-Rowett expedition to Antarctica in 1921, and became a best-seller with many expeditions launched from the United Kingdom at the time. These widely-publicized expeditions captured the imagination of an entire generation and this novel product strengthened Roche’s scientific image.
We transformed hair care by adding panthenol to shampoo
In 1945, soon after the end of the Second World War, a new application was found for vitamin B derivatives in the field of hair care. Typically used for treating burned skin, it was found that the healing properties of panthenol could also benefit damaged hair. As a result, we developed the first Pantene hair care formula, laying the foundation for the Pro-V Science brand we know today. To develop this new line of business, we founded a new subsidiary called Pantene AG, which was sold to Procter & Gamble in 1985.
We once created iconic tastes and fragrances
In 1963, Roche acquired Givaudan S.A., a leading manufacturer of fragrances and flavours, followed by the acquisition of the French fragrance company Roure Bertrand Dupont in 1964. Through pursuing innovative science, the division produced flavour and fragrance compounds for a variety of products, such as the "taste" in food products like soft drinks and soups, and providing the scent of perfumes, personal care and household products. In 1999 the company was spun off to Givaudan, the world's largest flavour and fragrance company, and more than 30% percent of women's fine perfumes, including signature scents from Christian Dior, Givenchy, Calvin Klein, and Yves Saint Laurent, were produced by Givaudan's fragrance scientists.
We revolutionized electronics with the invention of the LCD display
In 1970, while conducting research to improve displays for medical devices, the twisted nematic field effect (TN-effect), the basis for the production of liquid crystal displays (LCDs), was discovered in Roche laboratories. This technological breakthrough made LCDs practical because TN-cells could operate using low voltage power supplies, such as batteries. This discovery was patented and the technology was licensed to companies that produced the first digital quartz wrist watches along with a number of other products. By the 1990s, TN-effect LCDs were universal in portable electronics and the technology has been dubbed by some as the “invention of the century.”
We have a long legacy of innovation and scientific progress, with marked technological advances that have had wide-reaching impact on many industries. Today, we focus these efforts on two core businesses, Pharmaceuticals and Diagnostics, which span the spectrum of care from early detection and prevention of disease to diagnosis and treatment, paving the way for the future of healthcare. Combining the strengths and expertise of both divisions, we play an increasingly important role in shaping the future of medicine through our continued commitment to following the science and improving lives.
January 3, 2019
1. Unless otherwise linked/referenced, information was provided by The Roche Historical Collection and Archive, Basel Switzerland, and Roche Canada internal records and documentation.