Roche cancer drugs continue to shine, but biosimilars are on the way

Roche HQ

Sales of Roche’s cancer drugs remain strong, giving the Swiss drugmaker a solid push in the first half of the year. And while execs acknowledge that a swarm of biosimilars will present future challenges, they said Thursday they believe they have a strategy to keep that growth alive.

The Basel-based drugmaker reported that group sales for H1 were up 5% to CHF25 billion, with the pharma division turning in CHF 19.5 billion of that total and seeing 4% growth in both in the U.S. and worldwide. It gave credit to immunology treatments Xolair and Esbriet, as well as HER2-positive breast cancer drugs Herceptin and Perjeta. The company said its previous 2016 forecast for sales growth at a low- to mid-single digits in constant currencies still holds.

In a call with journalists, executives acknowledged that from mid-year 2017, Roche’s cancer portfolio will face increased competition from biosimilars of drugs like Herceptin but said they believe that between the launches of new drugs and finding new ways to combo older drugs, Roche will be able grow its cancer drug sales “through the biosimilar erosion curve of Herceptin.”

CEO Severin Schwan said that, in fact, it is a historic time in drug development at Roche. “We are in the process of launching 5 new molecule entities within the short timeframe of only one year,” Schwan said, according to a transcript of the call. “This is really unprecedented in the history of Roche and it comes at the right time.”

He called special attention to its first immuno-oncology drug, Tecentriq. It was approved in the U.S. on May 19 on an accelerated basis based strong data in a second line bladder cancer setting. “I mean it's still early days but the CHF 19 million in a little less than a month and a half,” represents solid underlying demand for Tecentriq, the CEO said.

Adding an additional lift for the drugmaker was the fact that drug sales in China, which had slowed last year, were up 8% in the first half of 2016.

- here’s the earnings release

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