Roche Sales Grow on Cancer Drug Demand

Roche Holding (RHHBY) shares climbed nearly 2% Thursday after the Swiss drugmaker posted first-quarter sales that rose 6% to 12.2 billion Swiss francs ($11.61 billion), thanks to strong demand for key cancer drugs. Roche Holding (RHHBY) shares climbed nearly 2% Thursday after the Swiss drugmaker posted first-quarter sales that rose 6% to 12.2 billion Swiss francs ($11.61 billion), thanks to strong demand for key cancer drugs. The results beat the average sales forecast of 11.88 billion francs, Reuters reported. Roche, which reports only semi-annual profit figures, also confirmed its full-year outlook.

The largest maker of cancer drugs worldwide showed a 12% sales growth in local currencies in its oncology drugs. Sales of Avastin, its best-selling drug for the treatment of advanced colorectal, breast, lung and kidney cancer rose 18%. The drug is also used to treat a type of brain tumor known as relapsed glioblastoma. With the possibility that it will be approved to treat other diseases, many believe Avastin has a strong growth potential.

Meanwhile, sales of MabThera/ Rituxan, used to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia and rheumatoid arthritis, were up 13% as the approval for Rituxan in the U.S. for chronic lymphocytic leukemia helped growth. Sales of Herceptin, for HER2-positive breast cancer, rose 11%.

Sales of Tamiflu Spike

Tamiflu sales rose 32%, thanks to high demand due to the swine flu pandemic. But sales of CellCept, used in transplants to prevent organ rejection, dropped 28% following a warning the U.S. Food and Drug Administration added to the label. The Basel, Switzerland-based company also said the U.S. launch of Actemra for rheumatoid arthritis was "promising."

"With sales advancing 9% [in local currency], Roche is off to a very good start in 2010," Roche CEO Severin Schwan said. "Both divisions [pharmaceutical and diagnostics] continued to outgrow their respective markets. We are thus fully on track for 2010."

The company said Roche expects sales in 2010 for its pharmaceuticals division and for the group as a whole to increase in the mid-single-digit range in local currencies. It also said Roche is shooting for double-digit growth in its core earnings per share at constant exchange rates.

New Breast Cancer Treatment

Schwan added: "I am very pleased that, after discussions with the FDA, we are now planning to submit a U.S. marketing application for our innovative breast cancer treatment T–DM1 this year, based on strong phase II data in women who have not responded to prior treatments." The data showed T-DM1 reduced tumors in a third of the breast cancer patients in the trial.

T-DM1 comprises of ImmunoGen's (IMGN) DM1 cancer-cell killing agent linked to the HER2-targeting antibody, Herceptin, developed by Genentech. Roche acquired Genentech last year. According to Bloomberg, the company says T-DM1 may generate more than 2 billion Swiss francs ($1.89 billion) in annual sales. And with an expedited review it may win approval later this year or early in 2011.

Many regard the drugmaker's biologics, oncology and pipeline as strong, having strong growth potential. But this didn't escape investors, as Roche is traded at a premium to competitors. The results of the first quarter were good, but investors might wait for results from upcoming trials, or decisions by the FDA before pushing it higher yet.

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