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Roche's Avastin Still Growth Driver: CEO

Roche's cancer drug Avastin remains a growth driver for the company despite disappointing sales in the US and Europe as a result of regulatory restrictions, Chief Executive Severin Schwan told CNBC on Thursday.

Schwan spoke to CNBC as Roche reported worse than expected results for the first quarter.

The pharmaceutical giant reported sales down 9 percent in local currencies to 11 billion Swiss francs. Overall group sales increased by only 2 percent, but Schwan said the company remained on track achieve its revenue forecasts for the full financial year.

"The Swiss franc’s strength relative to other currencies had a big impact of around 9 percent," he told CNBC, but he said Roche’spipeline of medical treatments was the most promising in the industry.

Changes to health care systems in the US and Europe have also hurt sales at Roche.

The US Food and Drug Administration moved in December to withdraw marketing permission for Avastin as a treatment for breast cancer, and European regulators have also limited its use.

“2011 and 2012 are transition years for us where we forecast limited growth, but from then on we expect to return to greater growth," Schwan said.

“We stick with our financial growth forecast for 2011, but there is no doubt pricing pressure throughout the world will limit growth beyond that. We are focused on the innovative medications that help patients and help to prolong life,” he said.

He also suggested that while limits on US Medicaid as well as pricing pressure present challenges, opportunities in emerging markets were huge.

”The potential of China is enormous already we are seeing more than 1 billion in sales in China. The driver is better access. Countries like China with greater economic growth can now afford the kind of innovative medicines we offer.,"Schwan said.