Genentech has kicked off the reporting season by posting a 68% leap in first-quarter net income to $706 million and revenues of $2.84 billion (+43%) on the back of strong growth from its cancer agent Avastin, though the previously spectacular showing from its new blindness drug Lucentis seems to have slowed down a little.

US product sales climbed 30% to $2.04 billion in the quarter, with Lucentis (ranibuzumab) for wet age-related macular degeneration bringing in $211 million, still impressive in only its third full quarter since coming onto the market but down 6% on the fourth quarter last year. Analysts had expected Lucentis revenues to be closer to the $220 million but a flattening of sales was also anticipated because patients need fewer maintenance doses of the drug after initial frequent dosing.

Better news came from Avastin (bevacizumab) as its sales in the USA shot up 34% to $533 million, helped by the Food and Drug Administration's recent approval to expand use of the treatment to patients with non-small cell lung cancer. This figure is likely to grow even more if Avastin is approved as a first-line treatment for metastatic breast cancer in the USA and a filing in that indication is scheduled for the middle of the year. The European Union has just backed the drug for metastatic breast cancer in combination with paclitaxel.

As for Genentech's other key products, US sales of the breast cancer drug Herceptin (trastuzumab) climbed just 7% to $311 million, while Tarceva (erlotinib) for lung and pancreatic cancers advanced 10% to $102 million. The arthritis and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma drug Rituxan (rituximab) posted a 12% gain to $535 million, while Xolair (omalizumab) for severe asthma was up 17% to $111 million.

Apart from Lucentis, the results beat analyst forecasts though the share price remained fairly static. Genentech reiterated its profit forecast for 2007, saying it expects earnings per share growth of 25-30% over last year.