Roche's chief executive says that the company has enjoyed another strong year and expects to post figures for 2009 that will outpace its rivals.

Speaking to the Swiss weekly Handelszeitung, Severin Schwan said that Roche is confident about reaching its recently-raised sales target for its pharmaceuticals division of at least high-single digit growth. This should be achieved even without the contribution of Tamiflu (oseltamivir), sales of which have soared due to the spread of swine flu.

Claiming that Roche’s pharma unit is growing faster than its competitors, Dr Schwan said the division’s turnover should top 2.7 billion Swiss francs, driven by double-digit growth of its cancer drugs.

New Avastin filing
He expects more approvals for the blockbuster Avastin (bevacizumab) and the company has announced that it has made a filing in Europe to extend use of the drug to patients with metastatic breast cancer in combination with a broader range of standard chemotherapies, ie a taxane or anthracycline-based chemotherapy or Roche’s own Xeloda (capecitabine). Avastin is currently licensed in the EU as first-line treatment for patients with metastatic breast cancer in combination with paclitaxel or docetaxel.

Dr Schwan went on to say that following the $47 billion deal earlier this year to buy the rest of partner Genentech, Roche is committed to repaying debt and will only consider small and mid-sized acquisitions.

Spanish genome pact
Meantime Roche has signed an agreement with the health authorities in Andalusia, Spain that will see the Basel-based group participate in the Medical Genome Project, which is being created to study the genetic make-up of rare diseases.

Under the terms of the pact, Roche will contribute 4 million euros to the MGP for the right of first refusal over any possible licence regarding discoveries made within the scope of the project. The programme will begin in 2010 and extend to 2013.

In the first phase, researchers will work with about 300 DNA samples, each of which can contain up to 26,000 different genes, Roche noted. Once the genetic variability has been defined, it will be compared with the alterations observed in rare diseases, while the final phase will concentrate on “the search for specific therapies for genetic-based diseases in the field of personalised healthcare”.