* 2012 sales up 7 pct, core earnings up 11 pct
* To pay 7.35 Sfr per share dividend for 2012
* Some investors had speculated about special dividend
* Shares fall 1.3 percent, underperform sector
By Caroline Copley
BASEL, Jan 30 Swiss drugmaker Roche
forecast a rise in sales and profits this year, helped by new
cancer medicines it hopes will shield it from the patent
expiries ravaging many rivals.
Roche, the world's largest maker of cancer drugs, said on
Wednesday it hoped sales would grow in line with 2012, when they
rose 7 percent to 45.5 billion Swiss francs ($49 billion).
The Basel-based group also said it was aiming for core
earnings, up 11 percent in 2012, to increase ahead of sales.
That assessment was more upbeat than cross-town rival
Novartis, which last week guided for a fall in profit
in 2013 as it grapples with competition from cheaper copies of
its top-selling product.
Roche has been spared the pain from a wave of patent
expiries hitting many rivals, as most of its medicines do not
face imminent generic competition.
It also has high hopes for new treatments like skin cancer
drug Zelboraf and breast cancer medicine Perjeta, and some
analysts predicted its guidance for 2013 would prove cautious.
"In our opinion, sales in 2013 should pick up more strongly;
we see the guidance as conservative as usual," said ZKB analyst
Roche proposed a dividend of 7.35 francs per share, compared
with 6.80 francs a year ago, and pledged to keep hiking
This wasn't enough for some investors, though, who had
speculated the group might pay a special dividend.
Roche Chief Executive Severin Schwan dismissed this,
pointing out the group's net debt to assets ratio of 16 percent
was still above its 0-15 percent target range.
At 0900 GMT, shares in Roche, which have gained 9.5 percent
so far this year, were down 1.3 percent at 198.8 francs compared
with a 0.1 percent weaker European healthcare index.
The group said 2012 core earnings per share reached 13.62
francs, in line with analyst forecasts, helped by cost cutting
and sales of its three biggest-selling cancer medicines -
Rituxan, Herceptin and Avastin.
DEFEND AND GROW
Some analysts have raised concerns about the loss of market
exclusivity on chemotherapy drug Xeloda at the end of 2013 and
possible competition for hepatitis C drug Pegasys from other
oral treatments, which they say could drag on Roche's
However, the group is developing follow-on medicines to try
and fend off anticipated competition from so-called biosimilar
copies of its cancer drugs.
Sales of Perjeta, a treatment for women with a particularly
aggressive form of breast cancer, were 56 million francs so far,
up from 26 million in the third quarter.
Perjeta is a follow-on to Roche's current second-biggest
seller Herceptin and part of its strategy to develop new drugs
to extend the longevity of its best-selling brands. It won
approval from U.S. regulators in June.
U.S. regulators are expected to decide on Feb. 26 whether to
approve another new breast cancer drug called T-DM1, which Roche
hopes will be used in combination with Perjeta, giving further
protection against the biosimilar threat.
"We do not only believe that we will defend the franchise,
we believe that with those two important new medicines we will
actually grow the franchise in the medium to long term," Schwan
told journalists in Basel.
Roche is hoping to duplicate this defence strategy with
GA101 - a treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia which it
bills as a better product than its original Rituxan.
Key data due later this year will provide clues as to
whether Roche will be able to convince doctors to move patients
to GA101 from Rituxan, which had sales of 6.7 billion francs in
2012 but loses patent protection in Europe at the end of 2013.