Roche got its financial year off to a flying start with a 14% hike in first quarter sales to just over 8 billion Swiss francs, driven by a solid performance from the pharmaceuticals divisions, which prompted the Swiss giant to raise its full-year outlook for the unit.

Sales in the pharmaceuticals division climbed 18% to 6.2 billion francs versus the same period last year [[21/04/04c]], as a result of increasing demand for its key oncology products. The non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment, MabThera (rituximab), was up 24% during the quarter to 929 million Swiss francs, while Avastin (bevacizumab) for colorectal cancer posted first-quarter sales of 260 million Swiss francs, bringing total sales generated since its US launch last year to roughly 1 billion Swiss francs [[27/02/04a]]. The company’s non-small cell lung cancer treatment, Tarceva (erlotinib), which was approved in the US in November last year [[22/11/04d]], and won the Swiss green light last month [[22/03/05a]], generated first-quarter sales of some 57 million Swiss francs. The breast cancer agents Xeloda (capecitabine) and Herceptin (trastuzumab) jumped 48% during the three months to 165 million Swiss francs and 23% to 391 million francs respectively.

In addition, the influenza drug, Tamiflu, saw sales quadruple during the three months to 424 million Swiss francs, while the anti-anaemia products, NeoRecormon (epoetin beta) and Epogin (erythropoeitin beta), prescribed in patients with kidney disease and cancer, grew steadily despite price pressure in the anaemia market as a whole. Combined sales of the two drugs were up 7% to 416 million Swiss francs. Pegasys (peginterferon alfa-2a) for hepatitis C rose 15% to 325 million Swiss francs.

On the back of this performance, Roche says it now expects full-year results for the pharmaceuticals division to be better than previously anticipated [[02/02/05a]], with double-digit sales increases. Commenting on the first quarter of 2005, Roche’s chairman and chief executive, Franz Humer, said “We remain confident about the outlook for 2005 and beyond.”