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Tamiflu boosts Roche sales rise

Strong demand for retroviral and core cancer medicines elevate Roche to sixth place in global pharma rankings

Roche is riding high on the back of strong demand for antiviral, Tamiflu, after reporting a 20 per cent rise in third quarter sales to SwFr 10.47bn ($8.23bn), beating analysts' expectations.

The Swiss firm has confirmed its full-year outlook of double-digit sales growth for both its pharmaceutical division and the group as a whole.

Third-quarter sales at the core pharmaceuticals unit rose a healthy 25 per cent to SwFr8.33bn ($6.5bn), elevating Roche into sixth place among the world's biggest drugmakers, the firm said.

Sales of Tamiflu more than doubled to SwFr 669m ($527.5m) from SwFr 279m ($220m), bolstered by governments and health organisations preparing for a possible avian flu pandemic in humans.

ìThis is the wild card in the pack,î Roche pharmaceuticals unit head, William Burns, told Reuters. ìWhat we're forgetting is that every winter tens of thousands of people die from influenza, whether or not there are good vaccines available. And into that arena we believe that Tamiflu should be playing a stronger role every winter.î

Meanwhile, strong sales of key cancer treatments such as Herceptin and Avastin also contributed to the positive outlook as Roche repeated its forecast for sales growth of at least 10 per cent this year, and reiterated that it expects profits to grow faster than revenue.

Lat week, Genentech, the US biotech firm that Roche controls, gained US approval to market Avastin as a treatment for lung cancer. It was first approved as a colon cancer therapy.

However, some analysts said much of the Roche outperformance was down to high one-off demand for Tamiflu. Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch analyst, Karl Heinz Koch, said that while Tamiflu sales had impressed, other major products ìshowed a mixed picture at bestî.

Roche reported some mixed news on drugs coming through its pipeline. It said it had received 16 approvals in major markets and had achieved a ìsignificantî number of milestones in drug development including positive phase III results for colorectal cancer drug Xeloda.

The experimental diabetes drug, R1438, was dropped from development and replaced by a follow-up compound. A drug for male erectile dysfunction, R873 was also discontinued, after failing to clear hurdles for medical differentiation.

30th September 2008

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