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Roche maintains dominance as leading cancer drugmaker

But the firm’s growth is stalling as pricing pressures hit sales

 Roche HQ

As the curtain falls on this year's ASCO cancer conference new data show that Roche is still king of the hill when it comes to oncology drug sales - but its growth is stalling as others manage to see revenue rise.

This is according to data published exclusively on PMLiVE by consultants at GlobalData, which show the Swiss pharma firm is, perhaps not surprisingly, the largest oncology drugmaker with $25.1bn in sales across its cancer drug range in 2014.

This includes sales of its biggest-selling established medicines, including the blood cancer drug MabThera (rituximab), the multi-cancer licenced Avastin (bevacizumab) and breast cancer treatment Herceptin (trastuzumab), as well newer drugs such as its next-generation breast cancer drug Perjeta (pertuzumab).

But growth from across its oncology platform was minimal, with the firm registering just 2% growth last year.

This is partly due to increasing pricing pressures on the firm across mature markets, where newer versions on its cancer drugs are reaching the $150,000 - $200,000 per patient mark, leaving payers bulking.

This was highlighted in England where last year the country's health technology assessor NICE said Perjeta was nearly double the price (at £90,000) than it would consider cost-effective, and publicly criticised Roche for the price tag.

NICE has also refused to reimburse Roche for any of Avastin's five main EU licences in the country, despite being the second-biggest selling cancer in the world with more than $7bn in sales in 2014. It is however working on the next generation of cancer development in the form of a new PD-L1 immunotherapy drug for lung and bladder cancers - although it is long behind several of its rivals BMS and Merck & Co, who already have PD-1 drugs on the market.

Roche also has the problem of being so dominant at the top of the list that it has little room to grow and is succumbing to the law of diminishing returns.

This is not a problem for second place Novartis, which had cancer sales of $10.2bn last year but with a growth of 8%, boosted by the 20% jump in revenue for multi-licensed Afinitor (everolimus), making $1.5bn and blood cancer drug Tasigna (nilotinib), which saw 21% growth and is now matching Afinitor with sales of $1.5bn.

There were big jumps for Celgene, Johnson & Johnson and BMS - who were third, fourth and fifth on the list - with growth rates of 18%, 19% and 20% respectively.

Celgene saw its cancer drug revenue reach $7.4bn, based predominately on sales of its rare blood cancer treatment Revlimid (lenalidomide), which saw growth of 16% last year, bringing revenue for the medicine to $4.9bn.

Immunotherapies and future growth

BMS is one to watch for the future as it could soon be much nearer the top of the list, if analysts' expectations of its new immunotherapy drug Opdivo (nivolumab) are to be believed.

This anti-PD-1 drug has been one of the stars of this year's ASCO cancer conference in Chicago as new data revealed it substantially improves melanoma patients' lives when used with BMS' original immunotherapy treatment Yervoy (ipilimumab).

Given its potential across a wide range of other cancers, analysts believe it will become the market leader of the new PD-1 market by 2020, which is set to be worth around $30bn.

Falling sales

The two biggest fallers have been AstraZeneca and Merck & Co - eighth and ninth respectively - although Merck may well like its US rival BMS jump up the rankings in 2015 with its PD-1 drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab).

This drug was approved for melanoma by the FDA last year and in direct competition with Opdivo for that $30bn market share potential.

AZ saw sales fall across much of its oncology brands, with a 4% decline for its biggest cancer seller Zoladex (goserelin) for certain breast cancers with revenue just shy of being a blockbuster at $996m. It also registered a 1% fall for its ageing lung cancer treatment Iressa (gefitinib), with $647m in sales last year.

Its early breast cancer drug Arimidex (anastrozole) and prostate cancer treatment Casodex (bicalutamide) also saw major dips of 12% and 10% respectively as patent expiries continue to bite.

But AZ too has promise of improving its position in the coming years after it published new data at ASCO this week showing positive results from a phase Ib clinical trial of its drugs MEDI4736 and tremelimumab in lung cancer, saying it will now take the immuno-oncology combination into pivotal testing.

These medicines are touted as being future blockbusters, and AZ has been keen to extoll the virtues of its oncology pipeline after it rebuffed Pfizer's $118bn offer to buy the firm this time last year.

The full data for the top 25 oncology drugmakers can be found here:


Article by
Ben Adams

3rd June 2015

From: Sales



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