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Roche pharma sales strong for first half of 2015

New and old cancer drugs boost revenue for the Swiss pharma firm

Roche HQ 

Roche has delivered another strong set of financial results as the firm prepares for the threat from biosimilars in the near future. 

Total sales across the group were up 6% at constant exchange rates, with its pharma division up 5% as sales reached CHF18.35bn ($19.21bn) in the first six months of 2015.

Revenue was unsurprisingly buoyed by its oncology drug range, with blood cancer and arthritis treatment MabThera (rituximab) remaining its top-selling product, bringing in sales of CHF3.5bn, a growth of 6% on last year.

Its ageing breast cancer drug Herceptin (trastuzumab) and multi-cancer licensed Avastin (bevacizumab) were both a close second, recording identical sales of CHF3.26bn, up 11% and 9% respectively.

Sales of its eye care drug Lucentis (ranibizumab) saw the biggest drop, however, with sales in the US (Novartis has rights to the medicine in the rest of the world) dropping 13%, as competition from Regeneron/Bayer's Eylea (aflibercept) and off-label use of Avastin continues to erode sales.

Its melanoma treatment Zelboraf (vemurafenib) has also come under pressure, with sales dropping 25% to just CHF106m - a far cry from the CHF800m analysts believed the drug could be making at its peak.

Roche admits that the drug has been “under intense competitive pressure” as its main competitor Novartis has utilised combination therapies for its melanoma treatments. It is also competing with new immunotherapy PD-1 drugs for skin cancer from BMS and Merck in what is a rapidly evolving market in melanoma.

Roche said however that a phase III study presented in May demonstrated that Zelboraf, combined with cobimetinib, helped people with BRAF-mutated metastatic melanoma live for a year without their disease worsening.

Marketing authorisation decisions are expected from the FDA and the European Medical Agency by the end of 2015, which could help boost sales of the drug should it gain approval in this form.

New drugs impress

Revenue for its new range of newer medicines, including the next-generation breast cancer treatment Kadcyla (ado-trastuzumab emtansine) and the new lung drug Esbriet (pirfenidone) - which it recently acquired with the purchase of US biotech InterMune - were also healthy, with Kadcyla up 65% to CHF362m and Esbriet CHF229m in its first six months under Roche.

Roche's CEO Severin Schwan said: “We had continued strong sales growth in both Pharmaceuticals and Diagnostics in the first half. I am very encouraged by the strong uptake of our new medicine Esbriet, for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, following our acquisition of InterMune last year.

“We have made significant progress in cancer immunotherapy and now have over forty programmes in clinical development.

“I am also pleased with the very positive results of the phase III studies for ocrelizumab in multiple sclerosis. Based on the strong first half, I am confident we will reach our full-year targets for 2015.”

Speaking to reporters after the presentation of its results, Schwan said he was still confident of obtaining growth in the future, despite the threat from biosimilar copies to many of its big-selling cancer drugs - most notably Herceptin - which the firm expects to start happening in Europe from 2017, and the US toward the end of the decade.

Despite some worries from analysts that the general diabetes market is set to slow in the future, Roche also reiterated its confidence about mid-term prospects for diabetes care, with Schwan saying he had “no plans whatsoever to sell diabetes care”.

Article by
Ben Adams

23rd July 2015

From: Sales

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