Spurred on by its influenza drug Tamiflu and oncology franchise, Switzerland’s Roche has posted double-digit gains in sales for the first quarter of 2006, and said it expects to earnings to follow suit.

Overall group sales were lifted 22% to 9.8 billion Swiss francs ($7.7bn), ahead of analyst expectations, with the pharmaceuticals division faring even better with a 26% rise to 7.74 billion francs, helped by around seven percentage points apiece by favourable exchange rates.

Sales of the firm’s cancer drugs rose by 52% overall, with breast cancer treatment Herceptin (trastuzumab) doubling its turnover to 861 million francs, Avastin (bevacizumab) for colorectal cancer climbing a whopping 140% to 676 million francs and MabThera (rituximab) - Roche’s top product for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and latterly rheumatoid arthritis - gaining 16% to 1.15 billion francs.

Meanwhile, Tarceva (erlotinib) for lung and pancreatic cancer surged 182% to 172 million francs, helped by launches in Europe and other regions over the last 12 months which have built on US sales that have been building since its launch in November 2004.

Tamiflu (oseltamivir) continued to grow strongly on the back of efforts by governments around the world to stockpile supplies as a preparatory measure against the threat of a flu pandemic, with sales up 37% compared to a year ago, reaching 601 million francs.

Among its smaller products, Roche reported good gains for HIV/AIDS drug Fuzeon (enfuvirtide), up 36% to 72 million francs, and once-monthly osteoporosis drug Bonviva/Boniva (ibandronate), which achieved sales of 75 million francs in the first quarter.

Roche’s chairman and CEO, Franz Humer, said: ‘Roche commenced the year with an outstanding quarter and all growth drivers continued last year’s strong performance.” He said he expects sales growth to grow in the double digits for 2006 as a whole.