Roche acquires DNA sequencing firm for up to $350 million

The logo of Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche is seen at a plant in the central Swiss village of Rotkreuz November 6, 2013. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss drugmaker Roche said it was buying privately held U.S. gene-sequencing firm Genia Technologies for up to $350 million, securing access to a technology that should allow it to decipher human genes at a cheaper cost.

Gene sequencing is vital to the development and use of new medicines by allowing researchers and physicians to better understand the human genome.

Under the deal announced on Monday, Genia’s shareholders will receive $125 million in cash and up to $225 million in contingent payments depending on certain milestones, Roche said in a statement.

The world’s largest maker of cancer drugs said earlier this year it was interested in buying technologies to strengthen its diagnostics unit. “The acquisition of Genia is a further step for Roche to introduce a potentially disruptive technology to the market,” Roland Diggelmann, chief operating Officer of Roche Diagnostics, said in the statement.

While other sequencing platforms rely on expensive optical sensors, Genia uses cheap electronic semiconductors, the same as those used in cell phones and computers, to measure changes in electrical currents and identify DNA sequences.

Roche said the technology was expected to reduce the price of sequencing while increasing speed and sensitivity.

In 2012, Roche abandoned an attempt to buy gene-sequencing company Illumina for $6.7 billion after the U.S. firm’s shareholders held out for a higher price.

Roche shares were up 1.9 percent at 0748 GMT (3.48 a.m. EDT), versus a just slightly higher European healthcare index, helped by positive drug data released at a big cancer conference in the U.S. over the weekend.

Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz; editing by Jane Baird