Roche to shutter 454, 6 years after buying NGS business

The pace of change in next-generation sequencing can cause market share to slide away at an alarming rate, something Roche ($RHHBY) discovered following its $155 million buyout of 454 Life Sciences. After losing ground to competitors over the past few years, Roche is shuttering the unit and laying off 130 staff members.

Closure of 454's Branford, CT, site follows a 6-year fall from the dominant position it held in NGS when Roche bought the business from Curagen in 2007. Back then Roche talked up the potential to apply the sequencing technology to in vitro diagnostics, but soon found itself struggling to compete against Illumina's ($ILMN) MiSeq and Life Technologies' ($LIFE) Ion Proton. Having unsuccessfully tried to buy Illumina for $6.7 billion last year, Roche is now reducing its involvement in the sequencing sector.

The decision comes 6 months after Roche stopped its third-generation NGS research programs, putting the ability of 454 to retake market share in doubt. Roche will continue making 454 sequencers until 2015, and continue servicing them until the following year when the site is scheduled to close. Even then, Roche will retain some interest in the NGS sector. Last month it inked a $75 million deal to develop diagnostics based on Pacific Biosciences' SMRT sequencing technology.

Having signaled its intent to close 454, the PacBio alliance is Roche's strongest tie to NGS. "Sequencing is a fast-evolving technology. With the continuous efforts of the sequencing unit in building a diverse pipeline of potentially differentiated sequencing technologies, Roche is committed to introducing differentiated and competitive products to the market," a company spokesperson told GenomeWeb.

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