Genentech has kicked off the reporting season by posting a 47% increase in fourth-quarter net income to $931 million, or $0.87 per share, boosted by strong performances by Avastin and Rituxan.

US product sales were up 13% to $2.50 billion, again driven by Avastin (bevacizumab), which shot up 21% to $731 million. The arthritis and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma drug Rituxan (rituximab) was again a big earner, up 14% to $677 million, while sales of the breast cancer drug Herceptin (trastuzumab) edged up 3% to $336 million.

Lucentis (ranibuzumab), for wet age-related macular degeneration, rose 20% to $236 million, while Xolair (omalizumab) for severe asthma increased 13% to $135 million. Sales of Tarceva (erlotinib) for lung and pancreatic cancers were up 5% to $118 million.

Genentech forecast earnings per share for 2009 of $3.55-$3.90, excluding items, though analysts were expecting guidance of $3.92 per share. However the company said that the estimate recognises the fact that “there are a large number of business uncertainties that make it a difficult year to forecast”.

One of those uncertainties involves whether Roche is going to up its bid to acquire the 44 % of Genentech it does not already own from the current $89 per share offer. Chief executive Arthur Levinson made no comment about any new approach from the Swiss major but said that in 2009, Genentech has the potential to receive four approvals from the US Food and Drug Administration. “We anticipate filing more than ten regulatory applications for new indications," he added.