Nutley nostalgia on Roche campus closing
Jun28

Nutley nostalgia on Roche campus closing

The most-viewed article at C&EN online over the last seven days was news from Lisa M. Jarvis on the announced closing of the venerable Nutley, NJ, campus of Hoffmann-La Roche – better known today as simply Roche. A mere 13 miles from Manhattan’s Times Square, the US headquarters of Swiss company moved to Nutley in 1929. A total of 1,000 jobs will be lost when the campus closes late in 2013 – Susan Todd at The Star-Ledger has a pair of articles with the details (1, 2). Todd also used the term, “venerable.” The Nutley campus is legendary for the discovery and development of major drugs – isoniazid for tuberculosis, for example – and the manufacture of vitamins. At one time, it was the example of how a pharmaceutical company could run an independent research institute with its Roche Institute of Molecular Biology. But this week, we lament the sadly unsurprising loss of employment for many of our friends in chemistry and pharmacology, as well as a host of good folks in administration and support services. Despite its contraction from a high of 10,000 employees in its heyday, Roche continued to provide 9-10% of the tax base for the city. My nostalgia for Roche extends back to my childhood, growing up on a hill five miles across the Passaic River in the predominantly Polish town of Wallington. From a clearing in the woods on the hill, the major landmark across into Essex County was the Roche tower, built the year before I was born and known by the unglamorous name of Building 76. The route my family took while driving back from the official state pastime of mall shopping invariably took us past the Roche campus on the Route 3 side. This drive past Roche from the west was preceded immediately by a glorious view of the New York City skyline, almost straight on with the Empire State Building. Whenever I see these two landmarks, I know that I’m almost home. My Uncle Tommy was a facilities maintenance worker at Roche for about 30 years. Readers here are certainly concerned about the loss of scientist jobs – but Roche provided upward mobility for high school and GED graduates like my uncle. He used to buy us our vitamins from the employee purchase plan. My daughter – and much of the internet – absolutely hate the smell of multivitamins. When I stick my nose deep into a bottle, I smell nurturing, love and care. Roche brought the first synthetic vitamin C to market using the combined microbial and organic synthesis method of Nobel laureate Tadeus Reichstein. When I was a...

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Antibody-drug conjugates: not exactly “smart bombs” for cancer
Jun22

Antibody-drug conjugates: not exactly “smart bombs” for cancer

I only have a quick post today because I really want you to spend your reading energy on a superb C&EN cover story by my colleague here, Lisa M. Jarvis. The media frenzy that normally follows the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting each June focused this year on cancer cell-directed antibodies conjugated to highly-cytotoxic compounds. The most ballyhooed of these is T-DM1, the anti-HER2 trastuzumab antibody (Herceptin) covalently linked to the microtubule-inhibiting maytansine analog, DM1 (meeting abstract, Genentech press release). When the conjugate is internalized by breast cancer cells overexpressing the HER2 protein, the highly-toxic DM1 drug is released intracellularly. The study population was 991 breast cancer patients whose disease was previously treated with plain old trastuzumab and a taxane (such as paclitaxel or docetaxel). In this, the EMILIA study, patients were randomized to receive T-DM1 or a combination of capecitabine (Xeloda) and lapatinib (Tykerb). Relative to the latter group, the DM-1-treated patients had a 35 percent increase in “progression-free survival,” the time from treatment to worsening of the disease or death (9.6 months vs. 6.4 months). The T-DM1-treated patients also experienced a reduction in serious adverse effects (40.8 percent vs. 57.0 percent). Large media organizations promoted this drug as a “smart bomb” or “wonder drug.” The truth, as Jarvis reports, is that this promising technology is still in the experimental phase following the 2010 withdrawal of the first FDA-approved ADC, Mylotarg, due to severe liver toxicity and poor treatment response in acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Don’t get me wrong. The ADC field is fascinating and full of promise. But mainstream-media editors who simplify headlines have oversold the findings, potentially misleading patients who might not read all of the study details. Moreover, the T-DM1 findings are in abstract form at this point. The comprehensive article by Lisa Jarvis details some of the technical challenges in creating ADCs but the high promise of these therapies based on the breadth of companies with ADCs currently in development. Go and read. Disclosure: The primary author of the ASCO report, Duke oncologist Dr. Kim Blackwell, is a family friend and colleague. I also had a professional interest in antibody-drug conjugates while working at RTI and was co-author on a paper with investigators from Seattle Genetics in this regard. Reference: Jarvis, Lisa M. Rethinking antibody-drug conjugates. Chemical & Engineering News 90(25): 12-18 (18 June...

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