US biotechnology major Genentech has once again reported stellar financial results, well ahead of analysts expectations, driven by demand for its cancer drug portfolio.

Second-quarter earnings at Genentech leaped 79% to $531 million, while operating revenues increased 44% to $2.2 billion and product sales climbed 42% to $1.81 billion.

However, despite the good performance shares in the company actually dipped back in after hours trading yesterday, seemingly on disappointment that there would be a delay in the US approval of Avastin (bevacizumab) in breast cancer patents, because the Food and Drug Administration had asked for more time to review the dossier.

The agency was originally due to deliver a verdict on the application on November 22, but now wants more documentation, mainly because the study supporting the application measured progression-free survival rather than overall survival, according to Genentech.

Avastin is already sold for colorectal cancer, and made a significant contribution to the good results, with sales rising 72% to $423 million in the second quarter. But its potential role in other widespread cancers has led to predictions of multibillion dollar sales potential, and yesterday’s share price dip reflected the importance attached to the drug.

Meanwhile, Rituxan (rituximab) for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma brought in $526 million in the quarter, up 17% from a year ago, while breast cancer drug Herceptin (trastuzumab) saw its turnover in the USA more than double to reach $320 million, helped by increased use of the drug earlier in the course of the disease.

Meanwhile, Genentech has come in for criticism of late for the price of its drugs, something that was acknowledged by chief executive Arthur Levinson in a webcast to discuss the results. Latterly the company has been holding talks with patient groups to explain the reasons why the drugs need to be so expensive, he said, adding he had been gratified by the response.

- In other news, Genentech said it had decided to halt a Phase I trial of a candidate drug for the skin cancer basal cell carcinoma after finding problems with its formulation. A decision on the future of the project, partnered with Curis, will be made in the coming months, said Genentech.