Swiss drugmaker Roche said this morning that strong sales from its cancer medicines helped drive revenues to 30 billion francs ($23.7bn) in the first nine months of this year, increasing its market share and elevating it into sixth position among the top pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Pharmaceutical sales rose by 21% to 23.9 billion francs, with the firm’s stable of oncology dugs advancing 41%, driven by the likes of Herceptin (trastuzumab) for breast cancer and Avastin (bevacizumab) for colorectal and lung cancers.

Herceptin was once again the star of the show, with sales doubling compared to the same period of 2005 to 2.8 billion francs thanks to increased use in patients with early-stage breast cancer. And Avastin was not far behind, up 90% to 2.1 billion francs, with further growth expected now that reimbursement approval for the drug in colorectal cancer has been granted in most European countries.

Also bringing some cheer to the party was Tamiflu (oseltamivir), benefiting once again by demand from governments stockpiling the drug as part of their preparations for a potential influenza pandemic, while osteoporosis drug Boniva/Bonviva (ibandronic acid) also put in a good showing.

Tamiflu sales came in at 1.6 billion francs, up 88%, while Bonviva surged a massive 929% to 309 million francs, capturing a 15% share of the US market for this type of drug.

Roche said its market share during the nine months period improved to 4.7% from 4.4%. It does not release first- or third-quarter earnings figures.

The company said it expects double-digit sales increases for the group as a whole and the pharmaceuticals division in 2006, as well as above-market growth in diagnostics.

…taps InterMune for hep C drugs

Meanwhile, Roche also announced a $530 million licensing agreement this morning, including a hefty $60 million upfront, which boosts its portfolio of drugs in development for hepatitis.

The deal with InterMune gives Roche rights to the company’s hepatitis C virus (HCV) protease inhibitor products, including lead compound ITMN-191 that is due to enter clinical trials before the end of the year.

The drug blocks the HCV NS3/4 protease, thought to be an attractive drug target because of its potential involvement in viral replication and suppressive effects on host response to viral infection.

Roche already has a strong franchise in hepatitis treatment with its Pegasys (peginterferon alfa) and Copegus (ribavirin) products, although sales growth for Pegasys has started to plateau. In addition to the new HCV protease programme, Roche also has an HCV polymerase inhibitor, R1626, in Phase II testing.