A dramatic rise in orders for the influenza drug Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and its cancer portfolio has helped Roche to a 17% rise in revenues in the first nine months of 2005, and allowed it to shrug off the loss of patent protection on its big-selling Rocephin (ceftriaxone) antibiotic.

Group sales came in 25.4 billion Swiss francs, with pharmaceuticals up 22% - three times the market average – to reach 19.4 billion francs.

Tamiflu put in a massive 263% hike in sales to 859 million francs over the first three quarters, boosted by the stockpiling efforts of national governments facing the threat of a flu pandemic [[18/10/05a]] [[17/10/05a]].

Meanwhile, Roche’s cancer portfolio – stemming largely from its majority stake in US biotech Genentech - also did well, with combined revenues up 37%. Avastin (bevacizumab) for colorectal cancer was the star performer and continued to race away, with turnover up 148% to 1.05 billion francs, while Herceptin (trastuzumab) for breast cancer also did well, rising 38% to 1.4 billion francs, and colorectal cancer drug Xeloda (capecitabine) climbed 47% to 568 million francs. Sales of Roche’s biggest-selling drug MabThera/Rituxan (rituximab) for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma rose by nearly a quarter to top the 3 billion franc mark for the first time.

The nine-month period also included the first contributions for new non-small cell lung cancer drug Tarceva (erlotinib), approved in Europe in September [[21/09/05d]]. This brought in 234 million francs, after just 11 months on the US market.

On the downside, Rocephin sales slumped 21% on the back of generic competition in the USA to 766 million francs, although this barely registered in the face of the strong gains seen for Roche’s new products and was a lower decline than forecast.

- Meantime, there was disappointment for Roche after a study conducted by Genentech found that Tarceva did not add any additional benefit in patients with kidney cancer when added onto treatment with Avastin. Genentech has decided to halt development of the combination in this form of cancer, an announcement that sparked an 8% decline in the shares of OSI Pharmaceuticals, which co-markets the product in the USA.