* Q1 sales 11.496 bln Swiss francs vs 11.887 bln forecast
* Hit by weak U.S. dollar, yen, LatAm currencies
* Confirms full-year guidance for higher sales and profits
* Shares outperform sector
(Adds CFO comment, analyst, shares, details on immunotherapy)
By Caroline Copley
ZURICH, April 15 A strong uptake of new cancer
medicines helped Roche to limit a decline in
first-quarter sales and the Swiss company confirmed a forecast
for higher earnings this year.
Roche Holding AG said currency movements, the loss of
exclusivity on chemotherapy drug Xeloda and falling sales of
hepatitis medicine Pegasys combined to pull sales down 1
Excluding the impact of currency swings, sales grew 5
percent, thanks partly to the strong performance of its cancer
drugs and rheumatoid arthritis treatment RoActemra.
Roche is yet to face a real challenge to its older biotech
drugs by makers of copy-cat treatments and analysts say it has a
promising pipeline of expensive cancer drugs after a string of
Tim Race at Deutsche Bank, who rates Roche a "buy", called
the quarterly sales "robust", pointing to a strong contribution
from new breast cancer treatments Perjeta and Kadcyla.
Shares in Roche, which have see-sawed this year
after gaining over 35 percent in 2013, were trading up 0.7
percent at 256.1 francs by 0831 GMT, compared to a slightly
higher European healthcare sector index.
The Swiss franc's strength against the U.S. dollar, Japanese
yen and Latin American currencies shaved 6 percentage points of
quarterly sales, which slipped to 11.5 billion Swiss francs
($13.08 billion). This was slightly below the average analyst
forecast of 11.89 billion in a Reuters poll.
Roche's Chief Financial Officer Alan Hippe said he expected
a negative currency impact of 5 percentage points on full-year
sales if current exchange rates persist.
Sales of Roche's flu treatment Tamiflu rose 5 percent in
Europe in the quarter. Governments have spent billions of
dollars stockpiling the drug but its effectiveness was contested
in a review by the respected Cochrane Report research network
"Roche fundamentally disagrees with the conclusions of the
Cochrane Report on Tamiflu," Chief Executive Severin Schwan told
He said Tamiflu remained an important medicine against flu,
but would not be drawn on whether the Cochrane Review's findings
would affect the drug's sales, saying they depended on seasonal
flu patterns and were very volatile.
NEW DRUGS GAIN MOMENTUM
Roche, which does not detail quarterly profits, is the first
company to report among major drugmakers this quarter.
Sales of Perjeta, which targets the same protein found on
some cancer cells as Roche's older blockbuster Herceptin, more
than tripled to 178 million francs, while Kadcyla chalked up 102
million francs in sales.
Roche has pushed ahead with developing such follow-on
medicines which it hopes will replace or breathe new life into
older treatments. It is banking on a strong ramp-up to defend
its market share once copycat versions of biotech drugs known as
Last week, Hospira successfully overturned two
patents on Roche's blockbuster breast cancer drug Herceptin in
Britain, clearing the way for it to launch a biosimilar version
in the country.
Roche has taken steps to defend sales at its blood cancer
business and won approval for Gazyva, a follow-on to its
top-seller MabThera, from U.S. health regulators in November.
Gazyva notched up 8 million francs in sales in the first
Investors are awaiting data in early June on Roche's
immunotherapy drug anti-PD-L1 that helps the immune system fight
cancer cells by disabling a protein that acts as a brake on the
body's ability to detect them.
Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck & Co, AstraZeneca
, Roche and others are racing to develop immunotherapies.
Roche said it had moved its anti-PD-L1 drug into late-stage
trials for lung cancer and started an early-stage trial looking
at the experimental medicine in combination with lung cancer
drug Tarceva. It also has a new mid-stage trial for anti-PD-L1
in bladder cancer.
Roche confirmed guidance for low-to-mid single-digits sales
growth this year, while expecting core earnings per share (EPS)
to grow ahead of sales. It also plans a higher dividend.
($1 = 0.8791 Swiss Francs)
(Reporting by Caroline Copley; editing by Tom Pfeiffer)