Just What the Doctor Ordered

The maker of Valium splits the world's priciest stock

When the tranquilizer Valium became the most frequently prescribed drug of the stressed-out 1970s, F. Hoffmann-La Roche reached the peak of good health. Thanks largely to Valium and its sister sedative, Librium, the Swiss-based Hoffmann-La Roche became the No. 1 maker of prescription pharmaceuticals and one of the most profitable companies on earth. But lulled by the success of Valium, whose U.S. patent expired four years ago, the company failed to keep pace in the '80s with such aggressive rivals as U.S.-based Merck and Swiss neighbors Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy. Symbolic of Hoffmann-La Roche's backward ways was the firm's thinly held stock,...

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