Roche Rules Out Novartis Merger Talk

Roche has dismissed talk of merging with fellow Swiss manufacturer Novartis as it revealed its results for the last three months.

Roche’s third quarter sales rose 8% on the same three months of 2012 to 11.6 billion Swiss francs ($12.7 billion), as part of a decent performance from the Swiss pharma group in the first nine months of 2013. Announcing the results Roche chief executive Severin Schwan ruled out a link with Novartis, explaining that the families which control more than half of the company do not want it.

“Nothing has changed with regards to Roche’s position toward Novartis,” Schwan insisted. “The families Hoffman and Oeri have repeatedly stated they are committed to Roche’s independence.”

The company has turned in some reasonable numbers on its own this year: over the first nine months of 2013, group sales were up 6% year-on-year to 34.9 billion Swiss francs – with the pharma division performing well over that period, with sales up 7% year-on-year to 27.2 billion Swiss francs. This was in large part due to demand for breast cancer drugs Avastin and Actemra/RoActemra, and because of headway in the US (sales up 12%) and emerging markets (up 10 per cent).

The star of this latter group was China, where Roche’s sales have risen 23% on 2012, suggesting that, so far at least, Roche has not suffered as a result of some western pharma firms’ problems in the country. Avastin sales rose 13% due to recent approvals in ovarian cancer in Europe, colorectal cancer in the US and Europe, and the first approval for newly-diagnosed glioblastoma in Japan. This is despite the drug having had its breast cancer licence revoked in the US and its use limited in Europe.

The division also saw a 33% increase in sales for Actemra/RoActemra, due in part to monotherapy use in rheumatoid arthritis.

Sales at its HER2 breast-cancer franchise – taking in Herceptin, Perjeta and Kadcyla – grew 13% as the approvals in the US and Europe of Perjeta and Kadcyla started to bear fruit. The CHMP recommendation of Kadcyla in advanced HER2-positive breast cancer last month also bodes well for the future.

Roche is pleased with its pipeline, which includes etrolizumab for inflammatory bowel disease and lampalizumab (anti-factor D) for the eye condition geographic atrophy.

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