Swiss drugmaker Roche has booked a batch of solid revenues for the first quarter of 2007, causing the group to revise upwards its earnings expectations for the full year.

Group sales came in at 11.4 billion Swiss Francs, climbing 17% in local currencies, three times faster than the local market, according to the firm. Growth was driven by a 20% leap in turnover of pharmaceutical products, while its diagnostics division also fared well with a 6% hike in turnover.

Oncology up 22%

The oncology portfolio, which accounts for nearly half of all pharmaceutical sales, grew 22%, led by strong performances by most products. MabThera/Rituxan (rituximab) for non Hodgkin’s lymphoma grew 17%, helped by the continuing rollout within Europe of maintenance treatment for relapsed follicular lymphoma, as well as further growth in first line indications of MabThera/Rituxan for indolent and aggressive NHL and the rheumatoid arthritis indication.

Global sales of Herceptin (trastuzumab), the only targeted treatment approved for use in both early-stage and advanced HER2-positive breast cancer, grew 36%, driven by data demonstrating the drug’s benefits in HER2-positive early breast cancer. Avastatin (bevacizumab), the first anti-angiogenic therapy to consistently demonstrate overall and/or progression-free survival benefits in metastatic colorectal, breast, lung and renal cell cancer recorded an increase of 41%. It has recently been approved in Japan for patients with inoperable advanced or recurrent colorectal cancer.

Tarceva (erlotinib) sales grew by 44%, reflecting increased usage in second-line, non-small cell lung cancer in existing markets and new markets, and its approval in January for the treatment of metastatic pancreatic cancer in Europe. While Xeloda (capecitabine), for colon and colorectal cancer, recorded robust turnover of 14%.

In other segments, pandemic stockpiling of Tamiflu (oseltamivir) fuelled revenue growth of 47%. Roche also gave a positive outlook for its arthritis drug, Actemra (tocilizumab), saying Phase III trials had shown positive results. On the down side, sales of Xenical (orlistat), Roche's treatment for weight-loss, declined by 10%.

'Impressive' growth

“Roche began 2007 with an impressive growth far ahead of the industry, continuing the trend established in 2006,” commented chairman and chief executive Franz Humer. “Based on the successful first three months we raise the outlook for 2007, and expect core earnings per share to grow above group sales.”