He painted a bright picture for the future of Oro Valley-based Ventana Medical Systems.
By the end of 2009, more than 1,000 people will work at the tissue-diagnostics firm, according to Severin Schwan, the CEO of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche, which bought Ventana earlier this year for $3.4 billion.
That would represent a 25 percent increase in Ventana’s workforce, no doubt a welcome bit of good economic news in the eyes of the local business and political leaders who gathered last Tuesday at the upscale Stone Canyon Club to hear Schwan speak.
On just his fourth visit to Tucson, the Roche CEO described his company’s acquisition of Ventana as the “most critical” step in Roche’s plans to dominate the global market for “personalized medicine.”
The theory behind that approach, Schwan explained, is the idea that a company that can marry state-of-the-art diagnostic tools to its various drug therapies will have greater success at treating patients.
Roche, which is based in Basel, Switzerland, has been on something of a buying spree for the past 18 months. And, with the company’s recent bid to acquire the rest of San Francisco-based Genentech (it already owns a 56-percent stake), Roche aims to establish a formidable presence in the West.
Roche’s “six or seven” acquisitions during that period would “fill in the gaps” in its arsenal, Schwan told the audience at Stone Canyon. The company would be able to carry successful treatments for a variety of ailments and conditions from the research phase to the treatment phase.
And Ventana will serve as the company’s diagnostics division leader, Schwan said.
To accommodate the ambitious role Roche envisions for Ventana in Oro Valley, an expansion is under way.
In August, the company bought a 17-acre parcel adjacent to its hub off Innovation Park Drive to make good on long-standing plans to expand its lab and office space.
“They were literally expanding labs today,” Schwan said last Tuesday.
Ventana could expand its footprint in Rancho Vistoso by more than 130,000 square feet in the coming years, according to its site development plans.
Schwan toured the expanded lab space at the property’s southern end before his Tuesday talk, which was organized by Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities.
The regional economic development group touted Roche’s commitment to Tucson as evidence of a growing biotechnology industry that, by TREO’s estimates, employs more than 2,000 locally and generates some $6 billion in annual revenue.
Indeed the talk at the Stone Canyon meeting centered on what many described as the limitless possibilities for high-tech jobs in the area, especially in Oro Valley.
In 2004, another biotech firm, Integrated Biomolecule, opened an 18,000-square-foot facility off Innovation Park Drive.
And Paris-based drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis, which already operates a small office in Oro Valley, in May 2009 will open a 110,000-square-foot facility just north of Ventana’s campus. That will add yet more sought-after, high-paying jobs to the town’s economy.
Touting the town’s relationship with Ventana, Oro Valley Mayor Paul Loomis last week said he looks forward to the company and the town “growing together” in the coming years. For his part, Ventana’s retiring CEO Chris Gleeson echoed the mayor’s rosy prediction, saying, “One of the critical success factors of companies is their ability to develop ties with local governments.”
Gleeson will leave his post at year’s end. Longtime Ventana Chief Operating Officer Hany Massarany will take over in January.
Bringing more top-flight jobs to the town likely will enhance the firm’s relationship with Oro Valley leaders, Gleeson said. “We’re just doing it faster” than planned, he boasted.
Biotech firms in Oro Valley
An emerging biotech sector has made Oro Valley’s Innovation Park Drive its base of operations. Companies with offices there include:
Ventana Medical Systems
• 1910 E. Innovation Park Drive
• Subsidiary of Roche, a Swiss pharmaceutical firm
• Facility: 96,800 square feet; 137,000-square-foot expansion under way
• East Innovation Park Drive, north of Ventana
• France-based pharmaceutical firm
• Facility: 110,000-square-foot building to open in May 2009; company currently has smaller office off Oracle Road
Integrated Biomolecule Corp.
• 2005 E. Innovation Park Drive
• Conducts research, development, manufacturing and analysis of biomolecules for the pharmaceutical and diagnostic industries; in Oro Valley since 2004
• Facility: 18,000 square feet
Regionally, the biosciences industry has become a major employer, according to Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities. Key figures include:
• More than 100 companies based in the region
• About 2,000 employees
• Average annual wage: $40,000
• $6 billion in annual revenue
Sources: Companies, Oro Valley, Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities