UK joins global clamour for Roche coronavirus testing kits
The Swiss fourth-generation biotech Roche Group is in demand as the United Kingdom follows the European Union and the United States in approving its coronavirus antibody testing kits for mass use.
The raising of the Roche profile came as the pharma family business marked the death of Fritz Gerber at the age of 91. The non-family honorary chairman worked for Roche over 40 years, as chief executive from 1978-1998 and chairman of the board from 1978-2001. He was hailed by the group as a “formative figure in the company’s history”, an entrepreneur who had shaped Roche's development into a leading global healthcare company.
Roche developed two diagnostic tests to help identify patients who have, or have had, the coronavirus. The UK government and its health service began talks with Roche to buy antibody test kits as soon as possible as England began to ease the lockdown it introduced on 23 March to try to limit the spread of coronavirus. Testing was intended to speed the reopening of economies impacted by lockdowns and tailor social distancing policies, although questions surrounding immunity remain.
Public Health England announced this week the Roche tests had an accuracy of 100%. UK health and social care workers could receive the tests as priorities in “the days and weeks to come—as soon as it is practical to do so,” Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said.
However, by early May, Roche was already shipping its new antibody test to laboratories around the world. The group said then it would ramp up production capacity to “high double-digit millions per month” to serve healthcare systems in countries accepting the CE mark as well as the US.
The Roche Group, headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, operated in more than 100 countries and in 2019 employed 98,000 people worldwide. In 2019, Roche invested CHF 11.7 billion ($12 billion) in R&D and posted sales of CHF 61.5 billion ($63.2 billion).
Andre Hoffmann (pictured), 61, the group’s vice chairman, is the great-grandson of Fritz Hoffmann-La Roche who founded F Hoffmann-La Roche & Co in 1896.
Henkel quarter rocked by changing consumer demands
German fifth-generation consumer goods group Henkel had mixed fortunes in its first coronavirus quarter of 2020 with strong demand for laundry detergents and household cleaners, but decreases for auto and beauty products.
The 174-year-old family business that makes Persil detergent and Schwarzkopf shampoo, among other brands, reported this week its overall group sales decreased nominally by 0.8% to €4.9 billion ($5.3 billion) in January to March, despite the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Laundry & Home Care business unit enjoyed “very strong” sales growth of 5.3% from the previous quarter to €1,755 million, the biggest year-on-year increase in sales since late 2015. Henkel suddenly had to increase global production of its soap products by 30%.
However, sales from more consumers in lockdown cleaning themselves, their clothes and houses struggled to offset the losses in adhesive technologies and beauty care.
The Adhesive Technologies business division dropped by 4.3% against the previous quarter to €2,209 million as industrial production, notably in the automotive sector, ground to a halt.
The Beauty Care business unit achieved sales of €935 million in the first quarter, a decline of 2.6% compared to the prior quarter. Closures of hair salons took their toll. While there was good organic growth in the hair colorants business, hair care and hair styling sales were down year on year.
The board withdrew its forecast for the fiscal year due to the pandemic impacts on the global economy.
“A reliable and realistic evaluation of the future business performance of Henkel is currently not possible.”
In addition to safeguarding the health and safety of employees, customers and business partners during the pandemic, Henkel launched its “global solidarity programme” with product donations and financial support.
Among the family members involved in Henkel is Dr Simone Bagel-Trah (pictured), chairwoman of the shareholders’ committee and supervisory board, who is the great-great-granddaughter of founder Fritz Henkel.
Mack family saves the summer season with Europa-Park re-opening
The Mack family’s Europa-Park themed family attractions will begin to re-open to the public under new Covid-19 health and safety policies from the end of May, but the family’s Rulantica water world remains closed, six months since the €180 million ($197 million) investment launched.
The season opening for Germany’s largest theme park was scheduled to be 28 March with 5.6 million annual visitors expected. However, Europa-Park has been a ghost town since the Mack family decided “with a heavy heart", in consultation with health authorities, to close the 95ha resort in mid-March in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The founding family announced this week its six themed hotels, the Camp Resort as well as Europa-Park Camping will welcome guests once more from 29 May. Hotel restaurants will be re-opened step-by-step from 18 May, beginning with outside areas. Only the water world Rulantica will remain closed until further notice.
“We welcome the national easing of coronavirus related restrictions announced by the Baden-Württemberg government on 6 May and have been intensively preparing for a re-opening of Europa-Park, our accommodation offering and the gastronomy, in close cooperation with the authorities,” the Macks said in a statement.
The family business, led by founder Roland Mack (pictured), 70, said the health and safety of guests and employees had always been their highest priority. Guests will be asked to observe social distancing and maintain hygiene requirements.
“It is our goal that you continue to feel safe and comfortable when visiting us. We have therefore decided to start the season with a limited number of visitors from 29 May and have been offering date-specific tickets for the 2020 summer season since 13 May via our online ticket shop. Our park area is large and spacious which means there is enough space for all visitors and employees to keep the mandatory minimum distance.”