Roche weathers early biosimilar attacks on US cancer sales
Biosimilars have cannibalized European sales of Roche’s Herceptin (trastuzumab) and MabThera (rituximab), known in the US as Rituxan, in recent quarters but the franchises have remained protected from competition in the key US market.
This changed in the third quarter when the first biosimilar rival to Herceptin came to market. Sales of Roche’s blockbuster breast cancer fell 6% in the third quarter but that represented an improvement over the three months prior to the arrival of biosimilar competition, when sales fell 8%.
The apparent lack of impact of biosimilar competition could be seen as a positive for Roche but Bill Anderson, CEO of Roche, was wary of reading too much into the third quarter results.
Talking to investors on a conference call, Anderson said, “I’m not sure I would extrapolate much from it. [Biosimilars have] only been available for a limited number of weeks and the tactics that are used, contracts and things like that, take time to negotiate.”
Anderson expects biosimilars to have a “significant impact” on Roche’s US sales. With this prediction resting on the knowledge that three of Roche’s legacy oncology drugs will face biosimilar competition and a belief that “there’s a need for additional competition.”
Roche’s forecasts suggest additional competition is coming. Anderson expects “to see at least a couple more biosimilars to Herceptin” over the next six months, as well as another copy of Avastin (bevacizumab) around the end of the year and the first off-patent competitor to Rituxan in November.
Prospects in China
The emergence of biosimilars is also affecting, or set to affect, sales of Roche drugs in other markets. China, a source of recent growth for Roche’s legacy oncology drugs, is expected to be a battleground for biosimilars, but Anderson thinks the company can compete.
Anderson said, “There will be some biosimilars in China but it’ll be a limited number and I think there may be some questions about the quality of some of those early biosimilars. We see ourselves as able to compete with the biosimilars.”
Europe sales decline bottoms out
Different dynamics have played out in Europe, where the availability of biosimilar rivals to Herceptin and MabThera has caused a series of double-digit declines in the sales of Roche’s drugs in the region.
This trend continued in the third quarter, when European sales of Herceptin and MabThera fell 42% and 26%, respectively. Yet, while those are big declines, Roche is now through the worst of the losses and as such was able to grow overall European sales by 5% in the quarter.
Anderson said, “This really reflects the diminished impact of biosimilar losses in Herceptin and MabThera, where most of the impact has already been felt.”