The Roche billionaires

Estimated combined wealth = $35 billion

Big Pharma fish behave a lot like sharks, gobbling up rivals in merger and acquisition deals to stay atop the industry's food chain, looking for any weaknesses in their targets along the way. Few public drugmakers are safe from M&A predators. Yet Roche has been virtually invulnerable to takeover attacks thanks to a cast of filthy rich shareholders in the bloodline of company founder Fritz Hoffmann-La Roche.

Roche stock has shot up more than 33% over the past 12 months, during which the company captured approvals for two new treatments against breast cancer, Perjeta and Kadcyla, both of which came from the prodigious oncology portfolio at its Genentech group.

Andre Hoffmann, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors at Roche

A jump in the Swiss pharma giant's ($RHHBY) stock value has vaulted several Hoffmann heirs into the global billionaire club, where the Hoffmann-Oeri clan resides along with Roche-related rich folk from the Engelhorn family of Germany, Bloomberg reported in February. Combined, the news wire estimated, the two families are worth north of $35 billion. Yet what makes the Hoffmann-Oeri family stand out most is that they control at least half of the voting rights at Roche.

The voting rights give the family members unique clout at Roche and a deep interest in the drugmaker's future despite their lack of operational roles at the company. And the family pool would likely even drown a takeover attempt from Novartis, despite the fellow Swiss healthcare behemoth's ($NVS) significant ownership stake in Roche. Speculation of such an attempt rose after Maja Oeri removed her sizable interest in Roche from the family pool, Bloomberg reported, but Maja made clear that she would stay committed to an independent future for the drugmaker. 

Trust the moneymen on this one. Andre Baladi, a student of the ownership arrangement based in Geneva, told the news service that the fate of Roche rests in the hands of the Hoffmann-Oeri clan and not even Novartis has the power to alter this.

"Although the family pool doesn't have the majority any more, that doesn't change the picture at all," Baladi told the news service. "You cannot take over Roche, it's practically impossible."

Though they lack the clout of the Hoffmann-Oeri family at Roche, the Engelhorn pharma dynasty brings its own interesting history. Industry mogul Curt Engelhorn brought his family riches through the 1998 sale of Corange--owner of German diagnostics provider Boehringer Mannheim and a majority stake of devicemaker DePuy--to Roche for $10.2 billion. Engelhorn, whose fortune Forbes estimated is worth $4 billion, is also the great-grandson of German chemical giant BASF founder Friedrich Engelhorn.

The Roche-related billionaires seem to shun the spotlight, but they don't need it to remain powerful players at the biopharma giant.

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The Roche billionaires
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