Roche battles back against biosimilar impact, sales up 7%
Roche posted its fourth-quarter financials, in which its pharmaceuticals division’s sales grew by 7% to CHF43.9bn (€38.5bn) and its core operating profit increased by 8%, compared with 2017 results.
The Swiss company had the most successful first full year launch in its history, with sales of CHF 2.4bn made by Ocrevus (ocrelizumab) – a treatment for relapsing and primary progressive multiple sclerosis.
Alongside Ocrevus, the company saw sales boosted by its new core portfolio of biologics, including Perjeta (pertuzumab), Tecentriq (atezolizumab), and Hemlibra (emicizumab-kxwh).
The drugs led to increased sales of 14% in the US whilst also seeing growth of 10% in the rest of the world (excluding Japan and Europe).
The story was slightly different in the latter two regions, with sales down 7% in Europe and 1% in Japan.
The reason for this was the introduction of biosimilar competition to MabThera/Rituxan (rituximab) and Herceptin (trastuzumab), leading to a drop off in European sales by 47% and 16%, respectively.
Roche CEO, Severin Schwan, said in a statement, “In 2018, Roche achieved very good growth in both divisions. I am particularly pleased with the very strong demand for our new medicines, delivering significant benefit for patients fighting serious diseases like cancer, multiple sclerosis and haemophilia.”
The second division Schwan refers to is Roche’s diagnostics division, which also recorded sales growth of 7%.
Biosimilars (not) on the horizon
Though it characterised its results for 2018 as ‘very strong’, Roche is likely to face biosimilar competition in the US during the course of 2019.
The firm expects MabThera biosimilars to hit the US in the first half of this year, following by Herceptin and Avastin (bevacizumab) biosimilars in the second half of the year.
The introduction of biosimilars into the US market will have a serious impact on the sales of these key products, though Schwan expressed the belief that biosimilar erosion will be lower in the US than in Europe during third quarter financials.
Despite the expected drop in sales due to biosimilars, Roche emphasised that has no plans to move into the industry.
In a statement released in the financials, the company said, “We will continue to concentrate our energies entirely on prescription medicines and in vitro diagnostics, rather than diversify into other sectors like generics, biosimilars or over-the-counter medicines.”