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Hemlibra off to a flyer as Roche raises 2019 forecasts

Drug has made almost as much in this quarter as it did in 2018


The long-anticipated slowdown of Roche as its ‘big three’ antibody drugs face biosimilar competition still hasn’t arrived, with new product sales offsetting the declines in the first quarter.

There was some slippage for immunology drug MabThera/Rituxan (rituximab) and Herceptin (trastuzumab) for breast cancer, with the declines seen most starkly in Europe where they fell 38% and 44% respectively. However, new drugs including Ocrevus (ocrelizumab) for multiple sclerosis, cancer immunotherapy Tecentriq (atezolizumab) and new haemophilia drug Hemlibra (emicizumab) acted as a buffer.

Roche’s third megabrand – cancer antibody Avastin (bevacizumab) – grew 9% ahead of the start of biosimilar competition due this year in the US. The three antibodies each contributed around CHF 1.7bn in the quarter.

All told, group sales rose 8% overall to CHF 14.83bn ($14.71bn), with pharma revenues up 10% on strong demand for the new crop of medicines, and Roche has now raised its outlook for the full year.

Ocrevus sales came in at CHF 836m in the quarter, up two thirds on the same period last year and continuing what Roche says is its most successful launch ever. It’s looking likely to overtake Roche’s older breast cancer Perjeta (pertuzumab), which rose 41% to CHF 868m in the quarter and has been another big growth driver for the Swiss company.

Tecentriq meanwhile is gathering pace after a slow start on the back of new indications, including lung and breast cancer, and looks set to break the blockbuster threshold this year as first-quarter sales more than doubled to CHF 336m.

New launch Hemlibra is also building momentum, according to Roche’s chief executive Severin Schwan, with sales at CHF 219m – making almost as much in this quarter as it did in 2018 as a whole after approval in a much larger patient population.

The FDA approved use of the antibody last October beyond its first indication of haemophilia A with inhibitors, antibodies that bind to factor VIII drugs and stop them working properly, to the larger non-inhibitor population, and the EMA followed suit last month.

With Roche’s pipeline set to deliver approvals some more potential blockbusters this year – including oncology drugs entrectinib for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and polatuzumab vedotin for lymphoma – Schwan is increasingly confident that the company will be able to grow despite the impact of biosimilars on its three cash-cow brands.

There are some big filings due this year – including risdiplam for rare disease spinal muscular atrophy that will take on Biogen’s big-selling Spinraza (nusinersen) – and Roche is also hoping to complete its acquisition of gene therapy specialist Spark Therapeutics and its new blindness treatment Luxturna

Article by
Phil Taylor

17th April 2019

From: Sales



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