Old standbys deliver for Roche in Q3 while Esbriet, Perjeta come on strong

Roche's bread-and-butter cancer drugs--Rituxan, Avastin and Herceptin--delivered once again in the third quarter, and now the Swiss drugmaker expects 2015 to turn out better than it previously had forecast.

With a street-beating 11.94 billion Swiss francs in sales for the quarter, Roche ($RHHBY) now predicts full-year revenue growth in the mid-single-digits, the high end of its previously predicted range. As usual, its top performers were those big three meds, with pack leader Rituxan, also sold as MabThera, delivering 1.77 billion Swiss francs. Avastin came in close behind with 1.7 billion francs, and Herceptin chimed in with 1.6 billion.

All three are stable--and aging--products, and Roche is looking for its new generation of meds to take up the slack when those drugs face biosimilar competition in the not-so-distant future. The first copies in Europe are expected at the end of 2017, with U.S. biosims on tap after 2019, CEO Severin Schwan said on the second quarter's earnings call.

One of those newer meds, Perjeta, is fast climbing Roche's leaderboard, with 53% in Q3 growth to 376 million francs, putting it in 4th place, just behind the big three. The HER2-positive breast cancer drug is now approved both in the U.S. and in Europe to treat patients before they've had surgery, a much bigger group than its previous target population. So far this year, Perjeta has brought in 1.03 billion francs, up 66% from 2014. Perjeta also helped drive the increase in Herceptin sales--10%--because the two drugs are used in tandem.

Roche CEO Severin Schwan

Tamiflu also put up some healthy Q3 growth numbers, with a 48% increase year-over-year to 118 million francs. But it's Esbriet's strong start that Roche bragged about; the new lung drug, for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, accelerated from 44 million francs for the fourth quarter of last year to 157 million for Q3 2015. The drug could get another boost from new data suggesting that it cut the risk of death by 38% in IPF patients after two years of treatment. IPF tends to be fatal within 5 years of diagnosis.

"Overall a decent quarter with no major surprises," Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson said in a Thursday note to investors, pointing out that Roche's higher pharma sales helped make up for a slight slowdown in its diagnostics business.

Meanwhile, Roche is readying a new filing for FDA approval in multiple sclerosis, which would be a new field for the top cancer drugmaker. The company's ocrelizumab delivered a late-stage success in patients with the hard-to-treat primary progressive form of the disease, a target other MS drugmakers have failed to hit. Analysts see that coup as a potential boost for sales in the relapsing form of MS as well.

And then there's immuno-oncology. Roche stands to be third to market with its PD-L1 treatment atezolizumab, after Merck & Co.'s ($MRK) Keytruda and Bristol-Myers Squibb's ($BMY) Opdivo. But the Swiss drugmaker sees an opportunity to grab market share, not only in head-to-head competition with the other two drugs in lung cancer, but in bladder cancer and other forms of the disease.

- see the release from Roche

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