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Roche CEO downplays hit from Swiss franc on results

Roche, the world's biggest maker of cancer drugs, reported a 3 percent rise in sales in the first quarter on Wednesday.

The Basel-headquartered company said the strong Swiss franc knocked two percentage points off its sales in the quarter. However, the company's chief executive played down the impact of currency fluctuations on growth.

"What you see in the first quarter is that the overall net effect on currencies is rather limited—it's only 2 percent—so we grew sales by 5 percent and in Swiss francs it was 3 percent. So what that tells you is that the sharp decline in the euro is compensated by the strong development of the U.S. dollar, so overall the impact for us is rather limited." CEO Severin Schwan told CNBC on Wednesday.

"We are naturally hedged because over 80 percent of our costs are outside of Switzerland and as such we are less exposed to currency fluctuations," he added.

The firm said sales in the first three months rose to 11.833 billion Swiss francs ($12.40 billion) from 11.496 billion year-ago. This beat analyst views, which averaged 11.492 billion in a Reuters poll.

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Despite its leading position in the hottest therapy area for drug research, Roche has been knocked back by the failure of two breast cancer and Alzheimer's studies late last year, as well as the sudden unpegging of the franc from the euro, which has caused a surge in the Swiss currency.

Schwan said the company was in a "pole position" to deal with competitors and that its oncology franchise would continue to drive growth.

"If you look at the first quarter results, the growth has been driven by the new (oncology) products and new medicines in other areas beyond oncology, and that's a promising sign for the future."

Schwan forecast strong growth momentum for the company, despite price pressure in Europe.

"We see robust growth for both divisions, pharma and diagnostic, and actually we see that across all the regions, with the strongest growth in the U.S. and in international emerging markets," he said.

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