Roche boosted by strong drug sales in US and China

Updated: 2013-10-18 11:17


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Biotech bet

Roche's drugs business has so far been shielded from a wave of patent expiries that have hit rivals, as most of its top-selling medicines are biotech drugs consisting of proteins derived from living organisms that are hard to copy.

On Monday, Roche said it would invest $880 million to boost production of biologic therapies at four of its manufacturing sites, as it looks to shore up its position as market leader in this fast-growing field.

Sales of its older cancer medicines Rituxan and Herceptin continued to gain momentum in the quarter, rising 12 percent and 7 percent respectively, while Avastin benefited from increased use in ovarian and colorectal cancer.

This helped to offset weaker sales of hepatitis C treatment Pegasys, which tumbled 16 percent.

The Basel-based drugmaker is also developing follow-on medicines - improved versions of its top-sellers - which it hopes will help it fend off anticipated competition from so-called biosimilar copies when its older drugs go off patent.

In a sign this strategy is paying off, Roche said sales of Kadcyla, a treatment for an aggressive form of breast cancer which won US approval in February, were 156 million francs in the first nine months of the year, up from 83 million in the first half.

Sales of another new drug Perjeta, which last month gained approval in the United States for use to help shrink tumors prior to surgery, had sales of 186 million francs.

Roche reiterated its expectation for full-year sales to grow in line with 2012, when they rose 4 percent in local currencies, and core earnings to rise ahead of revenues. It also expects to further increase its dividend in 2013.

Some analysts have questioned whether this guidance is conservative and sales were already up 6 percent in constant exchange rates in the first nine months.

Dan O'Day, the head of Roche's pharmaceutical division said he expected demand for the firm's major growth drivers to continue in the fourth quarter.

But he cautioned last year's sales of flu drug Tamiflu had been strong and said the loss of exclusivity on chemotherapy drug Xeloda could also weigh.

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