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Roche's old guard drugs hold up against biosimilars

Munich

ROCHE Holding AG's old guard of blockbuster medicines held their own against a new wave of cheaper copycats during the third quarter.

Their performance helped the Swiss drugmaker's sales beat estimates. Bestseller Herceptin showed little change as the breast cancer drug contended with so-called biosimilars for the first time in two decades of use. New medicines including Ocrevus for multiple sclerosis grew, but missed analysts' estimates.

Herceptin will face competition from biosimilars in the US in the second half of next year, according to chief executive officer Severin Schwan. The company expects to continue to grow even as the impact of the cheaper copycats intensifies, he said in a Bloomberg Television interview.

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Herceptin's performance suggests that biosimilars from Merck & Co-Samsung and Mylan-Biocon may not be stealing away sales as fast as expected.

Roche's shift away from cancer treatments should continue to get a boost from Hemlibra, a haemophilia medication. Sales will probably kick into higher gear heading into 2019 thanks to a US regulatory approval this month that cleared it for use in the largest group of haemophilia patients.

While multiple sclerosis drug Ocrevus' sales more than doubled from the prior year, that missed estimates - the drug's revenue almost tripled in the second quarter of this year and was on track to hit about US$2.4 billion this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Earnings per share are on track to grow in the mid-teens this year at constant exchange rates, in part thanks to the impact of the US tax reform.

Roche's stock rose as much as 1.4 per cent to 243.95 Swiss francs (S$338) in Zurich trading. The shares have declined 1.3 per cent so far this year, compared with a 0.7 per cent gain for the Bloomberg index that tracks the performance of 19 European pharmaceutical companies. BLOOMBERG