Roche's first-quarter prescription drug sales climb 5 percent, lifted by cancer therapies

Roche announced Tuesday that sales of prescription drugs in the first quarter rose 5 percent year-over-year to 9.8 billion Swiss francs ($10.2 billion), boosted by revenue from cancer drugs and immunology therapies. The company's overall sales lifted 5 percent to 12.4 billion francs ($12.9 billion), topping analysts' expectations of 12.3 billion francs ($12.8 billion).

CEO Severin Schwan said "we have started the year with solid growth in both our pharmaceuticals and diagnostics divisions." The executive added "overall, we are on track to meet our full-year targets for 2016." For the full year, Roche expects sales to grow in the low- to mid-single digits at constant exchange rates, while core earnings per share are targeted to grow ahead of sales.

According to Roche, quarterly growth of its pharmaceutical unit in Europe, where revenue increased 6 percent to 2.3 billion francs ($2.4 billion), was driven mainly by MabThera, RoActemra and Perjeta. In the US, where prescription drug sales were up 7 percent to 4.7 billion francs ($4.9 billion), growth was led by Esbriet, Xolair and the HER2-positive breast cancer products Herceptin, Perjeta and Kadcyla.

Daniel O'Day, Roche's head of pharmaceuticals, suggested that the company's investigational immunotherapy atezolizumab may gain two US approvals this year. "We will be entering the market soon with atezolizumab in a new indication, bladder cancer," O'Day remarked, adding that the drug could also be cleared this year for a type of lung cancer.

Earlier this month, the FDA accepted Roche's filing seeking approval of atezolizumab for the treatment of patients with locally advanced or metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer whose disease expresses PD-L1, as determined by an approved test, and who have progressed on or after platinum-containing chemotherapy. The agency granted the application priority review and is scheduled to make a decision on approval by October 19. Analysts predict that atezolizumab could generate sales of around $3 billion in sales by 2020.

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