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Ocrevus helps Roche stave off biosimilar threat

Its low price strategy for the CD20-targeting antibody is paying off

Roche

Roche posted a healthy rise in sales in the first quarter, despite biosimilar competition for its ‘big three’ cancer drugs and thanks to a stellar performance by new multiple sclerosis therapy Ocrevus.

First launched in March last year, Ocrevus (ocrelizumab) made CHF 479m ($486m) in the first three months of the year, well ahead of expectations, and that performance - coupled with relatively stable sales for cancer antibodies Herceptin (trastuzumab) and Avastin (bevacizumab) - has given Roche the confidence to raise its annual sales and earnings forecasts for 2018.

The third of the big three - Mabthera/Rituxan (rituximab) - did not fare as well as its peers however, with sales down 8% to CHF 1.7bn overall and plummeting 44% in Europe where multiple biosimilar copies are now on the market.

The accelerating decline reveals Roche’s vulnerability as biosimilars start to threaten Avastin and Herceptin and make headway in the US, and it needs strong performances from Ocrevus and other new products like immuno-oncology drug Tecentriq (atezolizumab) and haemophilia A therapy Hemlibra (emicizumab) to maintain growth.

Roche’s strategy of setting a competitively low price for Ocrevus versus other MS treatments has continued to pay off, with strong uptake in both relapsing-remitting and primary progressive forms of MS in the US, which still accounts for more than 90% of the drug’s sales. It has just started to roll out in Europe following its January EMA approval, bringing in CHF 28m.

The picture for Tecentriq is less rosy however. Sales grew 29% to CHF 139m but were only a whisker above the CHF 132m posted in the fourth quarter of 2017 and missed expectations - showing it still has a long way to challenge the leaders in the category. Roche is investing a lot of effort in pairing the drug with Avastin however and positive new trials data for the duo could help unlock its potential.

Hemlibra made CHF 23m in the quarter after its approval in the US late last year, which Roche said was a “promising” start. The drug’s early take-up may have been affected by an investigation into patient deaths that were ultimately concluded to be unrelated to the treatment. Meanwhile, it was given the nod in the EU last month, its first ex-US market.

Overall, Roche group sales were up 5% to CHF 13.6bn in the first three months of 2018, while pharma grew by the same margin to CHF 10.7bn.

Article by
Phil Taylor

26th April 2018

From: Sales

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