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Ocrevus off to a flying start as Roche raises 2017 forecasts

New multiple sclerosis drug posts positive results in first quarter

Roche Basel Switzerland

Roche posted solid results across the board in the first half of the year, but the star of the show was new multiple sclerosis drug Ocrevus, which brought in 192m Swiss francs ($200m) in its first quarter on the market.

Ocrevus (ocrelizumab) only reached the market at the end of March, and Roche's decision to set a competitively low price for the drug versus other MS treatments in the US - its first market - seems to have paid off, with strong uptake in both relapsing-remitting and primary progressive MS, according to the Swiss pharma group.

The take-up of the drug has been buoyed by trials showing that the drug outperformed Merck KGaA's MS stalwart Rebif (interferon beta-1a) in two relapsing MS phase III trials and did better than placebo in the harder-to-treat primary progressive form of the disease.

Ocrevus' performance and initial sales for other new drugs - notably checkpoint inhibitor Tecentriq (atezolizumab) in bladder and lung cancer and Alecensa (alectinib) in lung cancer which added 237m francs and 148m francs respectively - helped Roche's pharma sales rise 5% to 20.52bn francs ($21.4bn) in the first half of the year. The three new drugs contributed half of all Roche's sales growth in the period.

Roche's mainstay biologic cancer therapies also held up well in the face of biosimilar competition in some markets, with Herceptin (trastuzumab) and MabThera/Rituxan (rituximab) both gaining 3% to 3.54bn and 3.84bn francs, respectively.

Perjeta (pertuzumab) for breast cancer continued to grow - rising 17% to 1.07bn francs - and immunotherapy Actemra/RoActemra (tocilizumab) also put in a good showing, rising 13% to 922m francs thanks to a steady stream of new indications.

The latest new approval for the drug was for giant cell arteritis (GCA), and Roche has just published new data in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) showing that 56% of GCA patients treated with a subcutaneous formulation of Actemra were in remission at one year,  versus 14% with placebo. Actemra was recommended for approval in GCA in Europe last week.

CEO Severin Schwann hailed the strong performance by the group, saying as a result he has "raised the outlook for the full year to mid-single digit sales growth" from the earlier predicted low- to mid-single digit growth.

Article by
Phil Taylor

27th July 2017

From: Research



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