Delta variant keeps Roche diagnostics sales sky high

High demand for COVID-19 diagnostics driven by the delta variant has led to rocketing sales at Roche’s diagnostics division, allowing the company to raise its sales forecast for the year.

Diagnostics sales rose 39% to CHF 13.3 billion ($14.4 billion) in the first nine months of the year, with the strong performance of the company’s COVID-19 test kits backed up by a recovery in other products as health services start to recover from the impact of the pandemic last year.

In the first half, the company had suggested diagnostic sales may start to flag in the latter half of the year as vaccinations started to bring COVID-19 infections under control, but it now expects high demand to continue into 2022.

Group sales rose 8% to CHF 46.7 billion, while turnover in the pharma division grew 5% in the third quarter, bringing sales in line with the same period of 2020.

Roche’s pharma sales were hit hard last year thanks in part to its big position in oncology treatment, which was deeply affected by pandemic lockdowns, as well as biosimilar competition to its big-selling cancer antibodies.

There were steep declines for Avastin (bevacizumab), Herceptin (trastuzumab) and MabThera/Rituxan (rituximab) – continuing the trend seen in recent quarters – which were offset by gains for multiple sclerosis therapy Ocrevus (ocrelizumab), cancer immunotherapy Tecentriq (atezolizumab) and haemophilia A treatment Hemlibra (emicizumab).

Also making a sizeable contribution was Ronapreve (casirivimab and imdevimab), Roche’s Regeneron-partnered antibody combination for mild-to-moderate COVID-19 which has brought in CHF1 1 billion since it was first granted emergency use authorisation.

Meanwhile, Actemra/RoActemra (tocilizumab) – an arthritis treatment now in high demand as a COVID-19 therapy – rose 30% to CHF 2.69 billion and could have gone higher but for supply shortages.

The company now predicts overall 2021 sales will grow in the mid-single digit range.

There was disappointment for the company earlier this week however when an oral antiviral for CXOVID-19 partnered with Atea Pharmaceuticals failed a phase 2 trial, potentially delaying the programme for up to a year.

That will put the programme well behind a rival oral antiviral developed by Merck & Co and Ridgeback Pharma, which has already been filed for emergency-use approval in the US and Canada.

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