Roche sees continued impact of biosimilars, but testing division performance strong

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Aajan
© GettyImages/Aajan

Related tags Biosimilars Cancer Diagnostics Roche

Roche witnessed a slight decrease in Q1 2021 pharmaceutical sales – a drop of 9% compared to the first three months of 2020 - as it faced continued biosimilars competition; the COVID-19 pandemic also played a role.

The company reported yesterday [April 21] that sales in its pharmaceutical division dipped 9% to CHF 10.6bn (US$11.54bn).

The pandemic also served to undermine the pharmaceutical division’s sales, especially for medicines where regular visits to hospitals or health practices are needed, such as infusions. Partly compensating that negativity, however, were the additional sales of medicines used to treat COVID-19, said Roche.

New medicines, those launched since 2012, grew by 20% and generated sales of CHF 5.2bn in the quarter, said the pharma giant. "Overall, demand continued to grow encouragingly, though here too the impact of the lower number of doctor’s visits was clearly noticeable."

Regional breakdown 

The impact of biosimilars on sales of the established cancer medicines - MabThera/Rituxan, Avastin and Herceptin - remained significant in the first quarter, with those drugs seeing a combined sales reduction of CHF 1.6bn, especially in the US, where sales were down by 14%, said the group. This decline was partially compensated for by the new products - mainly Evrysdi, Ocrevus, Hemlibra and Tecentriq - and Actemra/RoActemra for COVID-19-associated pneumonia, it added.

In Europe, sales decreased by 6%, as demand for the new products, including the antibody combination, casirivimab/imdevimab, was only partly able to offset the impact of lower sales for the established cancer medicines (mainly Avastin) and impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Japan, sales decreased by 7%. This decline was mainly driven by the osteoporosis medicine, Edirol, and the competition from biosimilars, said Roche. The sales dip there, however, was partially reduced by sales of cancer immunotherapy, Tecentriq, it confirmed.

Testing business going great guns 

Roche’s diagnostic division, though, reported very strong sales growth of 55% to CHF 4.3bn, mainly due its growing portfolio of COVID-19 tests.  

“Additional product launches in the first quarter, such as a research-use PCR test to help monitor SARS-CoV-2 mutations, further strengthened Roche’s position as the world’s leading supplier of COVID-19 tests,”​ said the company.

Commenting on the group’s performance in the first quarter, Roche CEO, Severin Schwan said: “In 2021, Roche remains strongly committed to the fight against COVID-19. The uptake of our recently introduced diagnostic tests and medicines remains strong, while we continue to see the expected impact from biosimilars on sales of our established medicines. Our broad product pipeline keeps making good progress. I am particularly pleased about the highly encouraging study results of our immunotherapy Tecentriq in early lung cancer and of faricimab in ophthalmology. The upcoming acquisition of GenMark underlines our commitment to help control infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance. Based on the results of the first quarter of 2021, we confirm the outlook for the full year.”

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