Biotech and Pharma

Roche slumps on another drug setback as sales forecasts come into question

Key Points
  • Roche shares slide as skin cancer treatment Zelboraf fails trial
  • The second recent trial disappointment is prompting analysts to reconsider sales forecasts and price targets
Roche skin cancer drug flunks trial
Roche skin cancer drug flunks trial

Roche shares tumbled to rank among the worst performers in European trade on Monday following news of the failure of trials for its skin cancer treatment Zelboraf. The disappointing results came alongside confirmation that similar products from compatriot and rival Novartis had met their aims.

Roche shares were trading 1.35 percent underwater by 12:30 p.m. London time as analysts considered the implication for the company in light of the separate recent trial failure of the company's eye treatment lampalizumab.

The fact that the disappointment is the second notable failure from the Genentech stable – the R&D business that was acquired in 2009 and is run as an independent entity within the Swiss pharma giant alongside Roche's own R&D unit – is concerning, John Rountree, partner at Novasecta, told CNBC on Tuesday.

"This is another blow and people will start to question that ability of that part of the organization to deliver really quality development," he highlighted, adding that analysts will need to reconsider the overall company's sales forecasts.

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The failure comes as Roche's dependence on generating new blockbusters grows given the gateways now open to competitors to develop cheaper copies of its effective cancer drugs Herceptin, Avastin and Rituxan, which together deliver around $20 billion worth of sales per year.

Yet despite the hitches, Rountree believes the company's policy of allocating significant funding to R&D will see Roche through the bumpy waters.

"I think they've got a viable strategy. They're continuing to innovate and they're investing a lot in R&D...the biosimilar (an almost identical biologic copy of an original drug) is a threat to them and they've just got to work harder. You're going to get trial setbacks but they've just got to keep ploughing ahead with that innovation," he argued.

Anticipating that sales projections for the company are likely to be "a little bit down but not horrendously", the partner at the pharmaceutical consultancy said the financial firepower of the Swiss giant would stand it in good stead going forward.

"Each one (trial failure) is going to damage the forecast but I think the bigger picture is that there's an enormous machine going on to innovate and people I would argue don't bet against Roche, they've got a lot of history," he said, even as investment bank Goldman Sachs sliced the company's price target by 10 swiss francs to 325 swiss francs.

"They've got the double power of R&D compared to a lot of other big pharmaceuticals."