COVID-19 tests prop up Roche as US biosimilars bite in Q3

Roche’s pharmaceutical revenues have been hit by falling sales in its pharma division in Q3 but a spike in demand for COVID-19 tests spared the Swiss company’s blushes.

Sales of its “big three” cancer drugs were all down considerably in Q3 as cheaper biosimilars gained market share in the US.

Avastin was down 30% compared with the same quarter last year, generating revenues of just under 1.2 billion Swiss francs ($1.3 billion)

There was a similar story with MabThera/Rituxan, which was down 33% to just over CHF 1 billion ($1.1 billion) for the quarter, and Herceptin’s sales dipped 38% to CHF 879 million ($947 million).

In the past three years Roche has enjoyed one of the most successful drug launches of all time with MS drug Ocrevus, but this has not been enough to offset the falling sales from these cancer drugs which at their peak generated yearly sales in excess of $20 billion.

All three are facing competition from several different biosimilars in the US, which have come to market over the last couple of years and after the cut price competitors hit the European market.

Biosimilars are near-copies of complex biologic drugs that are shown to be as safe and effective as the originator with a series of rigorous trials and tests.

They are not sold at the rock-bottom prices seen with generics of small molecules but can save health systems billions by undercutting the price of the expensive biologics.

Sales for the pharma division slipped 4% to just over CHF 11.1 billion ($11.95 billion) for the quarter.

Surging sales from the company’s diagnostics division, which has been busy because of demand for tests during the COVID-19 pandemic, meant that sales for the group were broadly flat in the quarter.

The diagnostics division saw an 18% increase in revenues to just under CHF 3.6 billion ($3.9 billion), meaning that at constant exchange rates the company’s sales were up 1$ to CHF 14.7 billion ($15.8 billion).

Overall the company saw strong sales in the first quarter followed by a COVID-19 related decline in Q2, with sales stabilising in Q3 thanks to stronger sales of new medicines and demand for coronavirus tests.

Confirming the company’s 2020 outlook, CEO Severin Schwan noted the FDA approvals for three new medicines: Enspryng and Evrysdi for rare diseases and the cancer medicine Gavreto.

Roche is also working with Regeneron on the REGN-COV2 antibody cocktail, which the FDA is reviewing for an Emergency Use Authorization for COVID-19.

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