Media speculation that Roche may be vulnerable to takeover attempts has been growing over the weekend after the family group at the helm lost its majority stake in the firm.

The group's share in the company dropped from 50.01% to 45.01% after family member and descendant of founder Fritz Hoffmann-La Roche Maja Oeri exercised her rights to become an independent shareholder, thus weakening its hold.

Despite the move the pool of family investors insists it "remains by far the most significant shareholder" and remains committed to this company’s independence, according to media reports.

But some industry observers feel that Roche could now become a takeover target, and fellow Swiss drug giant Novartis has been touted as a possible contender given that it already holds a third of its rival's voting rights and already made a play for the firm back in 2004.

Family spokesman Andre Hoffmann was, however, quick to quash the rumours. 

Speaking to Swiss newspaper the SonntagsZeitung he reportedly insisted that Roche will not be up for sale, and added that a marriage between Roche and Novartis "makes even less sense than it did five or 10 years ago," given their different strategic directions.

"Novartis has additional pillars with eye medicine and generics. Roche is concentrating on personalised medicine with innovative pharma and diagnostics. That doesn't go together,' he said.

Lucentis hits targets again

Meanwhile, in somewhat brighter news for Roche, Genentech reported that eye drug Lucentis (ranibizumab) hit its target in a second Phase III trial of patients with diabetic macular oedema, a swelling of the retina that can cause blurred vision, severe vision loss and blindness.

Data from the RIDE study showed that after 24 months a significantly greater number of patients given Lucentis exhibited improved vision than those given a placebo jab.

More specifically, after two years' treatment 33.6% of patients who received 0.3 mg Lucentis and 45.7% of those given 0.5 mg of the drug could read at least 15 more letters on an eye chart than at baseline versus just 12.3% in the control arm. 

In addition, safety results were consistent with previous findings and further back the drug's tolerability, the firm said.

US filing

Genentech unveiled data from the Phase III RISE study back in February, which also met its primary endpoint in showing that Lucentis significantly improved vision in patients with DME.

The company said it plans to use both studies to support an application to expand the drug's approval in the US, where it already available to treat wet age-related macular degeneration and macular edema following retinal vein occlusion.

Lucentis was granted regulatory clearance to treat visual impairment due to DME in Europe, where it also is sold by Novartis, earlier this year, adding to its wet-AMD indication in the region.