Roche Anchors Business in Oro Valley

Largest Employer Expanding its Footprint

By Dave Perry

Any conversation about business in Oro Valley must begin with Roche Tissue Diagnostics, according to town community and economic development director Paul Melcher.

Roche is Oro Valley’s largest employer with approximately 1,700 people working on its expansive – and expanding – 118-acre Innovation Park campus. Close to 200 more work at Roche’s newer facilities near I-10 in Marana. It is Greater Tucson’s largest bioscience company.

RTD is the acknowledged U.S. and world leader in cancer tissue diagnostics. Its instruments and companion diagnostic tests can be found in most reference laboratories and major hospital labs across the country. Technology, tools and tests imagined and created in Oro Valley and Marana affect the lives of millions of people across the planet each year. In fact, if you have ever had a biopsy, there is a high probability your results were determined using an instrument and test built by RTD.

 The company’s global impact is not a secret, yet it’s little known in much of Tucson.

“When I encounter people in Tucson, they don’t really realize that the world’s number one cancer tissue diagnostic company is right here in their own backyard, full of scientists and manufacturing,” RTD head Jill German said in 2022, when Roche cut the ribbon on its innovative Forum space in Oro Valley. “There are all kinds of folks here contributing to the betterment of people with cancer.”

RTD’s origins in Southern Arizona date to the mid-1980s, when Dr. Thomas Grogan, a University of Arizona pathologist, started Ventana Medical Systems, Inc. His original idea to automate cancer testing grew exponentially when Roche acquired Ventana in 2008.

“Today, our Oro Valley site is now the global headquarters for the Roche Tissue Diagnostics business, which impacts the lives of over 38 million patients worldwide each year,” German said.

Roche Tissue Diagnostics has a clear mission – “to improve the lives of all patients afflicted with cancer.” In Oro Valley, more than 300 research and development staff are doing precisely that. They create “innovative pathology lab instruments, tissue-based clinical assays (tests), and software solutions that empower anatomical pathologists worldwide.”

Laboratory instruments are assembled in RTD’s Marana manufacturing building, which opened in late 2022. Upwards of 1,500 instruments are built by 170 employees each year.

Those instruments require test kits, composed of “reagents” that react with suspect tissue to identify potential cancers. The company produces 250 different tests for specific, cancer-related biomarkers. Literally millions of test kits are produced annually by more than 300 manufacturing employees on the Oro Valley campus.

In December, Roche expanded its Oro Valley footprint by purchasing the idled, 112,500-square-foot Sanofi/Icagen research and development facility next to the RTD campus.

Subcontractors are now on site, improving the facility to make it “more sustainable and fit to purpose,” the company said. Roche expects to move in during the fourth quarter of 2024.

The space is intended to help RTD “support the growth of the pathology business,” German said. “While RTD won’t be immediately adding jobs” with the expansion, it does plan to locate teams there that are working to bring “high medical value solutions to patients by identifying personalized health care solutions.”

Roche also cares about the environment. In 2022, the company constructed a 9,000-square-foot central utility plant on its Oro Valley campus, providing low-impact cooling to all buildings. That investment, along with other environmental practices, landed Roche (globally) in the 2023 Dow Jones Top Three sustainability index. 

RTD focuses on “innovations that will transform the practice of medicine,” the company said. Its instruments and tests can give pathologists an important answer: Does my patient have cancer?

When a positive cancer diagnosis is confirmed, RTD’s companion diagnostic tests can provide further information about specific cancers, and oncologists “can get a more targeted therapy prepared for their patients.” RTD works with more than 30 other pharmaceutical companies to develop new tests that pair with their targeted cancer therapies, intended “to get the right treatment for patients.”

Other specialized staining kits produced by RTD are used to identify bacteria and microorganisms that can lead to diseases like tuberculosis, leprosy, Barrett’s esophagus, amyloidosis, vascular diseases and more.

In a community where the sun and seniors are prevalent, having a company like Roche taking the fight to cancer right in Oro Valley seems like a perfect match.


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