Roche has posted a reasonable set of figures for the first nine months of the year which show that revenues rose 12% to 33.95 billion Swiss francs, or just shy of $29 billion, with its oncology agents performing well yet again.

Its pharmaceuticals sales, excluding the contribution made by subsidiaries Genentech and Chugai, were up 13% to 16.79 billion francs, driven by combined sales of the division’s oncology products which increased 21%. Globally, MabThera/Rituxan (rituximab) for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma grew 17% to 4.08 billion francs, while sales of Herceptin (trastuzumab) grew 26% to 3.59 billion francs. Avastin (bevacizumab) recorded an increase of 41% to 2.97 billion francs, while Tarceva (erlotinib) sales grew by 34% to 774 million francs.

However there was disappointment when it came to sales of the influenza Tamiflu (oseltamivir) which fell back 2% globally to 1.57 billion francs for the nine-month period but slumped 60% on third-quarter comparisions. Analysts were disappointed but Roche said the decline in Tamiflu sales was expected.

Chief executive Franz Humer noted that revenue growth in the second half of last year, “as we all know”, was also driven by a peak in stockpiling orders for Tamiflu for use in the event of a pandemic. Now, government and corporation stockpiling plans have largely been completed and no significant new orders have recently been received. Dr Humer also confirmed Roche’s full-year outlook, saying it expected double-digit increases in group and drugs sales and core earnings per share to grow faster than turnover.

The company preferred to dwell on the state of its pipeline rather than the financials specifically. In particular, it pointed out that the development programme for Avastin is making steady progress and Phase III trials have started, studying use of the product in early-stage non-small cell lung cancer and metastatic stomach cancer, as well as combined MabThera and Avastin in aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Phase III studies with pertuzumab in metastatic breast cancer are expected to start before the end of 2007, while its new rheumatoid arthritis compounds Actemra (tocilizumab) and ocrelizumab, a humanised anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody are moving ever closer to market.

Analyst likes state of Roche's pipeline

Navid Malik at Collins Stewart was also more interested in the pipeline and said that "the next generation of growth will likely emerge from areas outside of oncology, notably with Actemra and Mircera (continuous erythropoietin receptor activator) which, depending on a US court case, could be competing with Amgen's competitor anaemia drug Epogen (epoetin alfa). Micera could be on the market in the USA next year, the analyst noted, and peak sales could reach $1 billion by 2011.

Mr Malik added that "Roche has the best top-line visibility in the sector, with minimal patent expiries and good visibility to top-line for the next five years". He concluded by saying that "a three-year delay to fade brings a new price target" of 325 from 318 francs and reiterated his 'buy' recommendation.