Roche has posted a strong set of sales figures for the first quarter with group turnover rising 8% in local currencies to 11.58 billion Swiss francs, driven once again by its oncology franchise.

Sales at the Swiss major’s pharmaceuticals division reached 9.22 billion francs, also a rise of 8%. Most impressive was the performance of Avastin (bevacizumab) which recorded an increase of 30% to 1.49 billion francs, while MabThera/Rituxan (rituximab) for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma grew 6% to 1.48 billion francs.

Herceptin (trastuzumab) was up 11% to 1.31 billion francs, while Tarceva (erlotinib) sales grew 13% to 320 million francs. Xeloda (capecitabine) turnover was up 8% to 296 million francs as well, boosted by strong growth in Japan (+53%), while sales in the USA of Lucentis (ranibizumab), for wet age-related macular degeneration, increased 21% to 279 million francs.

The transplantation product CellCept (mycophenolate mofetil) rose 7% to 517 million francs, while Roche’s hepatitis C treatment Pegasys (peginterferon alfa) was up 9% to 393 million francs. The osteoporosis drug Boniva/Bonviva (ibandronic acid) rose 3% to 249 million francs.

Combined sales of Roche’s NeoRecormon and its Chugai unit’s Epogin (epoetin beta), for anaemia, declined 13% to 378 million francs. Revenues from the influenza jab Tamiflu (oseltamivir) leapt 38% to 401 million francs, 250 million francs of which came from Japan.

Roche chief executive Severin Schwan noted that sales in the first three months of 2009 grew “significantly faster” than the markets and “we are therefore confident that we can achieve our full-year targets”. He added that “we have made considerable progress with integration activities” of Genentech, which Roche gained full control of last month after forking out $46.8 billion..

Earlier this week, Roche announced a raft of new managerial appointments, the most striking being that effective May 1, Genentech's chief executive Arthur Levinson will become chairman of the new Genentech board of directors. He will “steer the integration of Genentech and Roche on a strategic level”, and his CEO role at the biotechnology giant will be taken by Pascal Soriot, who is currently responsible for the commercial operations of Roche's pharmaceuticals unit.

The company also announced that the head of Roche Pharmaceuticals, William Burns, will retire on January 1, 2010. The results have gone down well with investors this morning and were up 2.3% at 11.05am (UK time) to 152 francs.