Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche has reported a pleasing set of results for 2005, with net income coming in at 6.7 billion Swiss francs ($5.2b), close to 2004’s result even though that year was bolstered by a 2.3 billion Swiss francs one-time gain on the sale of the group’s over-the-counter medicines business to Bayer.

“Commercially, financially and in terms of our contributions to better healthcare, 2005 was an outstanding year for us. We even exceeded some of our own high expectations,” commented Roche’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Franz Humer.

Growth was driven by Roche’s Pharmaceuticals Division, which recorded its best ever results by generating an operating profit (before exceptional items) of 7.5 billion Swiss francs, leaping 37% over the previous year on sales boosted by rocketing demand for its antiviral Tamiflu (oseltamivir), following heightened fears of an avian flu pandemic, as well as rising popularity of its cancer therapies.

Organic growth of 6 billion Swiss francs lifted total revenues to a new record high of 35.5 billion Swiss francs, driven by turnover of pharmaceuticals, which swelled 25%, four times as fast as the global market and despite the loss of patent armour for Roche's one-time best-seller, the antibiotic Rocephin (ceftriaxone).

Key drivers behind the surge in sales were the anticancer medicines Herceptin (trastuzumab), which brought in sales of over 2 billion Swiss francs, and Avastin (bevacizumab), which made 1.7 billion Swiss francs in its first year on the market. In addition, Tamiflu raked in 1.6 billion Swiss francs, around half of which came from governments’ pandemic stockpiling orders, and turnover of the non-Hodgkin's lymphoma treatment MabThera/Rituxan (rituximab), the group’s biggest-selling product, came in at 4 billion Swiss francs.

Sales stemming from partnerships with Japan's Chugai and the USA’s Genentech, in which Roche holds the majority interests, also did well, rising 15% to 3.7 billion Swiss francs and leaping 46% to 6.6 billion Swiss francs, respectively.

So all-in-all an it was an extremely good year for Roche, and the firm’s solid standing looks set to continue, in the near term at least. Not only has it reaffirmed its positive outlook for 2006, forecasting further double-digit growth for its Pharmaceuticals Division, but the group is also in the rather enviable position of having none of its major pharmaceuticals due to go off patent within the next several years, unlike many of its peers.

Meanwhile, European regulatory authorities have given the green light for use of Tamiflu in the prevention of influenza in children aged one to 12 years. William Burns, CEO of Roche Pharmaceuticals, remarked: “This is particularly helpful in the family setting when one member of the family catches influenza - using Tamiflu for prevention will stop the spread of the disease to other family members.”