Genentech has kicked off the reporting season by posting an 11.9% increase in first-quarter net income to $790 million but sales of its cancer blockbuster Avastin, while still strong, fell slightly short of analyst estimates.

Group revenues were up 7.7% to $3.06 billion, again driven by Avastin (bevacizumab), which shot up 12.6% to $600 million, although analysts had expected sales to be in the region of $625 million. As for Genentech's other key products, the arthritis and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma drug Rituxan (rituximab) was again a big earner, up 13.1% to $605 million, and sales of the breast cancer drug Herceptin (trastuzumab) increased 9.0% to $339 million.

Lucentis (ranibuzumab), for wet age-related macular degeneration, fell 6.2% to $198 million, partly due to competition from Avastin, which has been used off-label in very small doses at a much cheaper price than the former treatment. Sales of Tarceva (erlotinib) for lung and pancreatic cancers were up 8.8% to $111 million, while Xolair (omalizumab) for severe asthma increased 5.4% to $117 million.

Avastin, which was already approved for colorectal and non-small cell lung cancer, is likely to enjoy even more significant sales rises from now on as Genentech recently received the green light from the US Food and Drug Administration to market the drug, in combination with paclitaxel, for the treatment of patients who have not received chemotherapy for their metastatic HER2-negative breast cancer.

Genentech added that it also plans to submit a supplemental Biologics License for accelerated approval of Avastin for the treatment of relapsed glioblastoma multiforme in the second half of 2008. It also noted that a new Phase III study in children aged 6-11 of Xolair, sponsored by partner Novartis, showed that the drug demonstrating a statistically significant reduction in exacerbations compared with placebo-treated patients with no new safety signals reported.