Roche cancer drugs Perjeta and Kadcyla drive strong Q1 results

Roche CEO Severin Schwan

Swiss drug giant Roche ($RHHBY) has hit the ground running in 2014, announcing today that quick uptake of its new cancer drugs helped drive first-quarter sales up 5% year-over-year in constant currencies to 11.5 billion Swiss francs ($13 billion).

Although the rise of the Swiss franc against many emerging-markets currencies actually knocked a few percentage points off the company's revenues, the results came in slightly ahead of analyst estimates, according to the Financial Times. Roche does not release first-quarter earnings.

Roche CEO Severin Schwan said in a statement that the company's strong first-quarter performance could largely be credited to its recently launched medicines Perjeta and Kadcyla for treating HER2-positive breast cancer. Perjeta, which was launched in the summer of 2012, has been prescribed by more than 85% of oncologists, market research firm Decision Resources said in March. When Kadcyla hit the market in February 2013 it seemed poised to do even better, and indeed the armed-antibody treatment has been prescribed by 80% of oncologists already, according to Decision Resources.

Schwan said today he was confident Roche would meet its full-year goals. The company had told investors after last quarter to expect sales growth in the low- to mid-single-digits this year, earnings-per-share growth "ahead of sales," and a 6% dividend boost.

 

Granted, those predictions are somewhat tempered by expected generic competition on some of Roche's older cancer drugs, including Xeloda, which already has generic rivals, as well as Rituxan and Herceptin, which could see biosimilar competition soon. Last week, Hospira ($HSP) persuaded a U.K. court to overturn two Herceptin patents, which means biosimilar competition could arise there any day now.

Like many biotech manufacturers, Roche has been finding innovative ways to extend the life span on some of its blockbusters. In its announcement today, the company pointed to two first-quarter accomplishments along those lines: the European approval of a subcutaneous formulation of Rituxan (known as MabThera overseas), and the FDA's approval of asthma drug Xolair to treat chronic idiopathic urticaria, a form of skin hives.

Roche is also getting some support from its diagnostics division, where sales rose 7% to 2.5 billion francs ($2.8 billion) in the third quarter. On April 7, Roche bought MA-based IQuum for $275 million up front and up to $175 million in milestone-based payments--an addition that today Schwan vowed "will further strengthen our leading molecular diagnostics portfolio."

- here's the earnings release
- read the Financial Times piece (reg. req.)

Special Report: Top 15 drug launch superstars - Kadcyla

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