* Roche kicks off results season with Q1 sales on April 14
* Swiss group's sales seen down 7.2 pct vs year ago -poll
* Weak Tamiflu, Avastin and strong Swiss franc hit Roche
* Flu was windfall for Roche, GSK, Novartis, Sanofi in 2010
By Ben Hirschler
LONDON, April 11 Roche ROG.VX is set to kick
off the Big Pharma reporting season with a fall in sales on
Thursday as a strong Swiss franc, weak demand for top-selling
cancer drug Avastin and lack of Tamiflu revenue take their toll.
The absence of last year's windfall profits from drugs and
vaccines to tackle the H1N1 swine flu pandemic will be a common
theme for several European drugmakers.
Roche saw high demand for Tamiflu, a pill used to treat flu,
and sales of pandemic vaccines also inflated revenues at
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L), Novartis NOVN.VX and Sanofi-Aventis
(SASY.PA) in the first three months of 2010.
Business this year is back to normal, with Tamiflu sales seen
down about 75 percent, dragging Roche quarterly pharmaceutical
sales 9.2 percent lower, as European price cuts also take their
toll, according to a Reuters poll of analysts.
Overall sales by the Swiss group, which is also the world
leader in diagnostics, are seen falling 7.2 percent to 11.4
billion Swiss francs ($12.5 billion). [ID:nLDE73A1DO]
"The pharmaceuticals division will continue to show the
impact of the austerity measures in Europe, lower use of Avastin
in breast cancer following the partial removal of the indication
in Europe and the recommendation of the FDA panel to remove the
label in the USA, (and) the absence of pandemic sales for
Tamiflu," Helvea analyst Karl-Heinz Koch said in a note.
Roche only gives sales figures at the quarterly stage, and
investors will have to wait until next week for full results
from other large drugmakers, including Eli Lilly (LLY.N),
Novartis, Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) and Abbott (ABT.N).
GSK, AstraZeneca (AZN.L), Sanofi and Bristol-Myers Squibb
(BMY.N) will report the following week.
For graphic on sector valuations: r.reuters.com/pyx88r
Across the industry, drug companies are grappling with a
wave of patent expiries on former blockbuster medicines and a
lack of new products to replace them.
The result has been retrenchment and a series of deals
designed to bolster flagging pipelines, such as Sanofi's $20
billion-plus purchase of Genzyme, which closed on Friday.
Industry goliath Pfizer (PFE.N) will keep the market
guessing about how it is faring until May 3, when new Chief
Executive Ian Read will present his first full quarter in charge
of the world's biggest drugmaker.
So far, investors have liked what they have seen of Read's
approach to cutting Pfizer's cost base and potentially divesting
more units, and the stock has outperformed all its Big Pharma
peers in 2011, with a gain of 18 percent.
Goldman Sachs analyst Jami Rubin expects Read to move
rapidly to pare back the business with break-ups and spin-offs,
as a debate among drug company executives about the right
strategy for the future gains traction.
U.S. rival Merck, which is locked in an arbitration process
with J&J over arthritis drugs Remicade and Simponi, has proved
the laggard and has shed more than 5 percent since Jan. 1.
(Additional reporting by Katie Reid in Zurich; Editing by Will
($1=.9088 Swiss Franc)