Roche drug sales rise on back of Tecentriq, Ocrevus
- Sales of Roche pharmaceutical medicines rose 5% year over year in the first half of 2017, buoyed by growing revenues from the Swiss pharma's immunotherapy flagship Tecentriq (atezolizumab) and the recently launched multiple sclerosis (MS) drug Ocrevus (ocrelizumab).
- Sales of Ocrevus totaled 192 million Swiss francs ($194 million), driven by demand in both the relapsing and primary progressive forms of the neurodegenerative disease. Ocrevus figures to be a big growth driver in years to come, potentially anchoring Roche's immunology portfolio in the U.S.
- In light of the performance, Roche raised its outlook for 2017 and now expects mid-single digit sales growth for the year. Driving growth from new products will be critical over the next few years as biosimilars edge in on Roche's top three biologics.
While sales of Herceptin (trastuzumab), Rituxan (rituximab) and Avastin (bevacizumab) continue to account for most of Roche's pharmaceutical revenues, focus has shifted to the growth trajectory for newer products.
Chief among them is Roche's Tecentriq, which rang in sales of 237 million Swiss Francs ($239 million) over the first six months of the year. Uptake in the U.S. was driven mainly by sales in metastatic bladder cancer and non-small cell lung cancer.
In bladder cancer, however, Roche recently revealed a confirmatory study of Tecentriq failed to meet its primary endpoint of overall survival versus chemotherapy in the second-line setting, throwing the drug's accelerated approval in that indication into doubt.
Still, Roche continues to drive at Merck and Bristol-Myer Squibb's lead in immuno-oncology, upping support behind the drug.
"We believe that cancer immunotherapy offers significant benefits and we have reallocated money into this area," said company CEO Severin Schwan. "For Tecentriq alone we will have eight studies reading out over the next 12 months, and have 10 new agents in clinical development. By having a broad portfolio we can have many shots at the goal and better chances."
Most recently, Roche secured a positive opinion from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for previously treated locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer and for second-line metastatic bladder cancer after cisplatin chemotherapy.
Phase 3 results from IMpower 150, comparing Tecentriq in combination with Avastin and chemotherapy against Tecentriq in combination with chemotherapy in first line lung cancer are expected in the second half of 2017.
"We expect the co-primary endpoint to read out in the third or four quarter of 2017, but we will continue the study until all endpoints read out, which could take us into the first quarter of 2018," said Daniel O’Day, CEO of Roche Pharmaceuticals.
IMpower 150 will be a key trial for Tecentriq in the battle for market share in first-line lung cancer. And with AstraZeneca's MYSTIC study falling short at its first analysis, Roche has a better chance to muscle in on Merck's position.
"We remain bullish about Tecentriq," said Schwan. "We see it as a growth opportunity."
Another key drivers of growth is Ocrevus, which became the first MS drug approved for both relapsing and primary progressive types of the disease.
"Multiple sclerosis physicians and patients are looking for effective, safe and convenient treatments. The Ocrevus launch is off to a good start and this validates our approach," said O'Day.
"The sales so far have been demand-driven, and reflect patients' first infusion. They will need their second infusion before the end of the year, and there is still a backlog of patients waiting to start treatment, and new prescriptions coming in," he added.
According to O'Day, the split between prescriptions has been 60:40 relapsing MS to primary progressive MS and Roche has seen signs RMS patients are switching from other drugs like Biogen's Tysabri (natalizumab) and Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate).
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