Roche posts strong Q1, beats forecasts


Swiss cancer major Roche has delivered a solid set of financials this morning as the drugmaker looks toward a strong 2016 with a host of new approvals on the horizon.

Roche’s first quarter sales were up 4% at constant exchange rates against the year ago period, with group revenue topping CHF 12.4 billion ($12.9 billion); the pharma division made up $9.8 billion of those sales. This was just ahead of estimates of CHF 12.3 billion.

This growth was pushed by three main drugs: the aging Herceptin and the next-gen breast cancer meds Perjeta and Kadcyla, which combined saw sales rise by 9%.

Cancer and autoimmune therapy MabThera/Rituxan remains its biggest seller, bringing in CHF 1.8 billion, up 3%, with new growth mainly coming from outside Europe and the U.S.

Roche said it is aiming to launch 8 new meds in the next 3 years as it looks to stem the loss of patent expirations--which begin from next year--as its cancer drugs become vulnerable to the biosimilar threat.

The company is in fact looking good on that front as already this year it has seen an FDA accelerated review for its PD-L1 check point inhibitor lung and bladder cancer treatment atezolizumab, as well as Venclexta (venetoclax) for hard-to-treat leukemia--both of which are expected to be solid blockbusters for the drugmaker.

Roche is also touting drugs outside of its stable of oncology, with ocrelizumab for primary progressive and relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis set for a July filing with the FDA, after the U.S. regulator gave it a breakthrough designation in February. There are currently no MS drugs for the progressive form of the disease, so an approval in this setting would be a real boon for Roche.

Its new idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis drug Esbriet also booked strong growth, with sales nearly doubling to CHF 172 million ($178 million) in the U.S. and Europe.

But it was not all good news as its eye drug Lucentis fell 13% to CHF 355 million ($368 million) for the quarter as it faced increased competition from Bayer’s rival therapy Eylea, as well as the continued erosion in some markets from the off-label use of its own cancer med Avastin--which can be used for wet AMD despite not having a license for the treatment.

Lung cancer treatment Tarceva also saw its sales fall by 14% compared to last year, hitting CHF 258 million ($268 million).

There remains a lingering concern over its investigational severe asthma drug lebrikizumab, as results released in Feb. showed the drug failed to significantly reduce symptoms in patients in one of two studies.

Analysts have said previously said that the medicine is a “hidden risk” in the company's pipeline, with Roche re-stating this morning that it was “analyzing the data” to see just what it can do with the program.

In a brief note, Roche’s CEO Severin Schwan said of the first quarter: “We have started the year with solid growth in both our Pharmaceuticals and diagnostics divisions. The marketing applications of important investigational medicines are well underway.

“The FDA granted priority review for atezolizumab in two indications and breakthrough therapy designation for ocrelizumab in primary progressive multiple sclerosis. Overall, we are on track to meet our full-year targets for 2016.”   

And for 2016, Roche expects sales to grow low- to mid-single digit at constant exchange rates. Core earnings per share are targeted to grow ahead of sales at constant exchange rates.

-check out Roche’s Q1 figures