Genentech has kicked off the reporting season by posting a 5% increase in second-quarter net income to $782 million, excluding charges, as strong sales of Avastin and Rituxan led the firm to raise its full-year guidance.

Revenues were up 8% to $3.24 billion, again driven by Avastin (bevacizumab), which shot up 15% to $650 million, helped by getting a new approval in breast cancer. The arthritis and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma drug Rituxan (rituximab) was again a big earner, up 12% to $651 million, while sales of the breast cancer drug Herceptin (trastuzumab) edged up 3% to $338 million.

Lucentis (ranibuzumab), for wet age-related macular degeneration, also rose 3% to $216 million, a welcome return to growth following previous declines that was partly due to competition from Avastin, which was used off-label in very small doses at a much cheaper price than Lucentis. As for Genentech’s other treatments, sales of Tarceva (erlotinib) for lung and pancreatic cancers were up 17% to $119 million, while Xolair (omalizumab) for severe asthma increased 8% to $129 million.

The results were slightly below analyst expectations but the firm was forgiven as it raised full-year forecasts to $3.40-$3.50 a share, from a previous guidance of $3.35-$3.45.

Warning over Avastin/Sutent combo
However the good news on the financial front was somewhat spoilt by Genentech announcing that it has ended a number of studies combining Avastin and Pfizer’s Sutent (sunitinib malate) because several patients with solid tumours developed microangiopathic haemolytic anaemia (MAHA).

Genentech has informed the US Food and Drug Administration that in a Phase I trial combining Avastin and Sutent, five of 12 patients who received the highest dose of Sutent “exhibited laboratory findings consistent with MAHA”. Two of these cases were considered severe but the effects were reversible within three weeks upon discontinuation of both drugs, but a Phase II trial was closed nevertheless.

The biotech giant also noted that two other Phase II studies of Avastin in combination with Sutent, which is approved for renal cancer, plus chemotherapy were halted due to poor tolerability due to myelosuppression, fatigue and gastrointestinal complications. However Genentech noted that other studies combining lower doses of the two drugs are ongoing.