Roche followed the lead of fellow Swiss group Novartis in reporting worse-than-expected annual profits this week, although sales growth was solid thanks to its cancer drugs.
Correcting for the strong Swiss franc, a 5% increase in sales to CHF 48.1bn ($47.5bn) was matched by a 5% decline in net income to just over CHF 9bn which - along with cautious forecasts for 2016 - sparked a 4% drop in Roche's share price yesterday.
Roche said sales would rise at a "low- to mid-single-digit" rate this year, but suggested core earnings per share would grow a little more at constant exchange rates.
Beyond 2016, Roche is more confident with the expected launched of eight new molecular entities including two - ALK inhibitor Alecensa (alectinib) and MEK inhibitor Cotellic (cobimetinib) - with marketing approvals already in hand and cancer immunotherapy atezolizumab due for filing imminently.
For 2015, pharma sales were up 5% to CHF 37.3bn on the back of good performances by cancer drugs particularly Roche's HER2 inhibitor franchise - Herceptin (trastuzumab), Kadcyla (trastuzumab/emtansine) and Perjeta (pertuzumab) - which collectively grew 19% to CHF 8.76bn.
Among its other big-selling drugs, Avastin (bevacizumab) grew 9% while Rituxan/MabThera (rituximab) added 4% despite increasing competition, and new idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) drug Esbriet (pirfenidone) continued its impressive roll-out, with sales of CHF 563m in its first full year on the market.
Analysts said the group's prediction of slower growth in 2016 was unsurprising, given the large number of product launches it will have to fund in the coming year, along with an expected slowdown for some of its big-selling brands including Herceptin, MabThera and Avastin.
In 2017, Roche will also see biosimilar competition to Herceptin and MabThera start to appear in Europe, although it expects to have a couple more years' grace in the US for those drugs and for Avastin globally.
Earlier this week Roche's fellow Swiss pharma company Novartis announced a revamp of its business after missing sales and earnings targets in its fourth quarter results. Its plans include major changes to its Alcon eyecare division, where sales fell 13% to $2.3bn.