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Containing and conquering global health threats

Roche has been at the forefront in responding to global emerging pathogen threats, most recently with its efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through its commitment to fighting infectious diseases, Roche continues to provide healthcare solutions rapidly and reliably across the world when they are needed most.

Roche’s Global Surveillance Program, which was inaugurated in 1998, enables the company to monitor genomic sequences of viral pathogen threats so it can swiftly develop optimized solutions for quick responses. For over 20 years, the program has been vital in developing dependable molecular diagnostic assays, benefiting researchers, physicians and patients through Roche’s extensive resources and global collaborations.

 

Combating the Coronavirus Pandemic

 

On January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Just a few weeks later on March 11, WHO characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic.1 As of June 2, there have been more than 6.3 million cases reported and over 375,000 deaths worldwide.2

COVID-19 is caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), and has now disrupted the lives of billions and overwhelmed many healthcare systems.

The most common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough and fatigue. Most people only experience mild symptoms, but others can become seriously ill and develop severe difficulty breathing. While the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions are at higher risk for developing serious symptoms, the disease can cause severe illness in anyone.3

 

 

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Healthcare professionals and regulatory authorities have recognized that accurate, high-throughput and high-quality diagnostic testing is vital to containing the transmission of COVID-19.

 

In January, shortly after a cluster of cases of unknown pneumonia in Wuhan City were reported to WHO, Roche’s Infectious Disease Emergency Response Team began work to develop the first commercial PCR test for SARS-CoV-2. A fast, reliable, scalable and automated RT-PCR test for detecting viral nucleic acids is an important requirement to diagnose SARS-CoV-2 infection. Detection during early stages of infection can help inform treatment strategy and restrict further spread of the virus.

 

 
Recognizing the urgent need to understand the number of people who had been infected, Roche scientists worked around the clock to develop a second test for COVID-19. 
 

This test detects SARS-CoV-2antibodies. With a high specificity and sensitivity, it helps identify people who have been infected. Highly specific antibody tests are important for patient contact tracing, defining previous exposure, identifying the viral reservoir hosts, and for epidemiological studies.

Epidemiological studies are urgently needed to help uncover the burden of disease, the rate of asymptomatic infections, the extent of virus spread in households and communities, and to better estimate morbidity and mortality. These epidemiological studies can help guide infection control measures.

To meet the demand for diagnostic testing, Roche scaled up its extensive global manufacturing capabilities and provided millions of these vital molecular and serology tests per month to communities around the world.

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The company has also ramped up efforts to ensure the new diagnostic testing systems are delivered and online quickly in hospitals and labs globally, and have increased training of healthcare staff to ensure efficient operation of the instruments. 

As an example, soon after COVID-19 began its initial spread in China, the Roche Global Supply Chain team arranged for two airplanes filled with diagnostic equipment to arrive in the country despite temporary flight suspensions. One of the flights contained 15 truckloads of diagnostic testing equipment, or 80 tons of product.

From Indonesia to Turkey to Switzerland, Roche’s international customer support, digital learning and professional services teams have also been working hard to connect with local and global customers and government officials through digital remote support to help analyze and resolve testing issues as rapidly as possible.

These efforts demonstrate Roche’s commitment to working closely with regulatory agencies, healthcare providers and patients to provide the best diagnostic solutions as the world continues to combat the disease.

Going above and beyond diagnostics

 

While developing diagnostic tests is a significant milestone in fighting COVID-19, Roche is also supporting local charities as well as global personnel, organizations and communities with vital resources.

In March, the Roche Japan diagnostics team and their families committed to send protective masks and clothing to colleagues in China to help with the initial crisis. In the U.S., Roche and its employees have dedicated support to local food banks as well as community and recovery funds to help keep essential services active. And Roche’s chemistry team began manufacturing hand sanitizer to ensure local personnel have the necessary protection to keep them safe. 

As COVID-19 continues to disrupt so many lives around the world, the teams at Roche are working tirelessly to remain at the forefront of the response during these challenging times.

 

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Countering the Zika Virus

 

By mid-2016, the Zika virus disease epidemic spread rapidly to thousands of people in Puerto Rico.4 Roche was quick to respond by developing Zika blood screening tests to help fight transmission.

Zika virus can be transmitted through infected mosquitoes, mother-to-child during pregnancy, sexual intercourse, donor blood transfusion and organ transplantation. The virus can cause birth defects in newborns, including microcephaly. In adults, Zika can cause neurological complications.5

Working closely with agencies in both Puerto Rico and the U.S., Roche rapidly developed an in vitro nucleic acid screening test to directly detect Zika virus RNA in plasma specimens from blood donors. By screening blood donations, Zika virus infection rate can be reduced and help ensure patients receive the safest blood products possible. 

While no longer considered a public health emergency, Zika virus infection is still a challenge within certain healthcare systems. Roche has stayed committed to offering reliable, up-to-date diagnostic solutions to ensure that the risk of Zika virus transmission remains low.

 

 

Fighting the West Africa Ebola Outbreak

 

From 2014 to 2016, the world witnessed the largest Ebola virus disease outbreak to date. After starting in Guinea, the virus quickly spread to thousands in the surrounding areas of West Africa. Over the course of the epidemic, seven other countries outside of West Africa reported cases of Ebola including the United Kingdom and United States. Ultimately, there were 28,652 cases and 11,325 deaths.6

 

Ebola is characterized by an initial presentation of dry symptoms, which include fever and fatigue, followed by wet symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting. The disease is transmitted through direct contact with blood, bodily fluids and through animal tissue.7,8

 

In response to the health crisis, Roche developed under the emergency use designation an easy-to-use molecular diagnostic test in whole blood samples for rapid detection of the Ebola virus. The test helped healthcare workers provide infection control and treatment interventions for Ebola patients as early as possible, thus reducing the spread of the disease

 

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Uncovering Parasitic Infection in the Blood

 

Babesiosis is a tick-borne illness from the Babesia parasite that leads to infection and destruction of red blood cells. The disease can be transmitted directly through tick bites, blood transfusion or from mother to fetus during pregnancy.9

While healthier patients may not become ill, others can develop mild flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills, headache and body ache. In more severe cases, the disease can be life-threatening, especially among the elderly, those who are immunocompromised and patients without a spleen.9

Unfortunately, the parasite cannot be detected through traditional plasma or serum samples. Roche has developed whole blood screening solutions for Babesia parasitic infection. The high-throughput, innovative nucleic acid screening method can help healthcare professionals decrease the risk of infections from transfused blood products through donor screening and protect the global blood supply from this infectious disease.

 

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Pushing the Boundaries against Infectious Diseases

 

Over the last several decades, Roche has been on the front lines of global pathogen outbreaks. Through its Global Surveillance Program, Infectious Disease Emergency Response and working with government officials, healthcare personnel and patients, Roche will continue developing innovative diagnostic solutions and enabling access worldwide with the goal of stopping the spread of infectious diseases.

 

References

1. World Health Organization (WHO). https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/events-as-they-happen. Accessed May 2020.

2. Johns Hopkins University & Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center. https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html. Accessed June 2020.

3. WHO. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub. Accessed May 2020.

4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0729-zika-infections-puerto-rico.html. Accessed May 2020.

5. WHO. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/zika-virus. Accessed May 2020.

6. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/history/2014-2016-outbreak/index.html. Accessed May 2020.

7. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/symptoms/index.html. Accessed May 2020.

8. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/transmission/index.html. Accessed May 2020.

9. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/babesiosis/resources/babesiosis_fact_sheet.pdf. Accessed May 2020.