Roche posts modest third-quarter sales beat as new drugs offset biosimilar hit

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Roche's third-quarter sales rose 7 percent, above analyst forecasts, as revenue from new drugs including its multiple sclerosis therapy Ocrevus offset the impact rivals' copies are having on the Swiss group's top-selling medicines.

Third-quarter sales rose to 13.97 billion Swiss francs ($14.10 billion), the Basel-based drugmaker said on Wednesday, compared to the average forecast of analysts of 13.8 billion francs in a Reuters poll. It did not release profit figures, saving those for the full-year report in early 2019.

So far, Chief Executive Severin Schwan's bet on new drugs like Ocrevus to help him grow sales is paying off, even as his Rituxumab blood cancer medicine fell by half in Europe and his Herceptin breast cancer medicine dropped 10 percent as rivals' cheaper biosimilar copies crowded in.

"The uptake of our new medicines continued to be strong in the third quarter," Schwan said in a statement. "Based on the performance in the first nine months of the year, we will achieve our full-year targets."

After hiking its outlook twice this year, Schwan on Wednesday stuck to his forecast for 2018 sales to grow at a mid-single-digit rate. Core earnings per share, including benefits from U.S. tax reform changes, should grow in the mid-teen-digit percentages, Roche said.

In the quarter, Ocrevus sales doubled to 633 million francs, putting it easily on track to top 2 billion francs in the full year. Revenue from Alecensa, for lung cancer with a tough-to-treat mutation, rose to 158 million francs, up 62 percent compared to the year earlier although slightly off the 160 million francs from the second quarter.

Sales of Perjeta, which Roche combines with Herceptin to fight breast cancer, rose 27 percent to nearly 700 million francs. Tecentriq, the immunotherapy that has struggled to gain traction against rival Merck's Keytruda in a key lung cancer indication, rose 71 percent to 204 million francs.

Roche is also expecting sales of its new haemophilia A medicine Hemlibra to accelerate after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's approval for the broad patient population this month cleared the way for it to pursue a market dominated by therapies made by Shire, Bayer and Novo Nordisk.