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Tech and Biotech: Roche NimbleGen to cut staff, product line

Tech and Biotech: Roche NimbleGen to cut staff, product line

A Madison biotech – once seen as one of the area’s rising stars – will shed the technology that vaulted it into the global limelight five years ago.

Roche NimbleGen told employees on Wednesday that the company will “restructure.”

In Madison, 44 of about 100 employees will lose their jobs by the end of 2012, and operations will cease in Iceland and Germany, eliminating 76 jobs in those countries.

Parent company Roche, of Basel, Switzerland, has decided to get out of the DNA microarray market, where it is No. 4 in worldwide sales. The microarrays are small chips used to analyze DNA samples.

“The business is being refocused ... on areas where Roche can be a strong player in the segments in which we choose to participate,” said Kary Staples, director of international marketing, in Madison.

But the company, at 504 S. Rosa Road, will not pull up stakes and leave Madison. The sequence capture technology it developed – which lets researchers home in on a portion of the genome and determine its genetic makeup – will continue in Madison. Research and development, manufacturing and marketing will stay here and an innovation team will be established for the Roche Applied Science division, Staples said. The team will be led by Tom Albert, one of the early employees of NimbleGen, with the goal of developing “new, disruptive technologies for the life sciences market,” Staples said.

NimbleGen was founded in 1999 by UW-Madison scientists Michael Sussman and Franco Cerrina, genetics professor Fred Blattner, and then-graduate student Roland Green after they developed a faster, less expensive way to make gene chips.

The company was lauded as a major, rising star and was close to staging an initial public stock offering in 2007 when the announcement came that Roche would buy NimbleGen for $272.5 million.

Since then, though, the biotech industry has gone through many changes. Gene chips are “an extremely competitive field. Roche NimbleGen has always been a smaller player in that,” Staples said.

Roche will provide a generous separation package and is encouraging employees to apply for positions at other Roche locations, Staples said.

Last October, Roche sold another Madison biotech it had purchased in 2008. Roche Madison, formerly part of Mirus Bio Corp., is now part of Arrowhead Research Corp., of Pasadena, Calif.


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