Strong sales of new cancer drugs and a severe U.S. flu season helped lift first-quarter revenue at Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding AG by 6 percent.
The world's biggest manufacturer of cancer drugs said Thursday that sales rose to 11.56 billion Swiss francs ($12.4 billion) during the first three months of the year, up from 11.03 billion francs in the same period last year.
Severin Schwan, the chief executive of Basel, Switzerland-based pharmaceutical company, told reporters that Roche is off to "a good start in 2013" and attributed much of the advance to an 84 percent increase in Tamiflu sales during the U.S. flu season. But he said that strong demand for Tamiflu would not last, with sales already starting to decline since the end of February.
Also helping the strong quarter, he said, were two new cancer drugs that the company hopes will mirror the performance of its three top-selling cancer medicines MabThera/Rituxan, Herceptin and Avastin. Sales of Herceptin and Avastin each rose 11 percent in the first quarter, while MabThera/Rituxan increased by 6 percent.
"The launch of two new cancer drugs, Kadcyla in the United States and Perjeta in Europe, will help to further improve our leading market position in oncology," Schwan said.
The company also said there was strong demand for its ovarian cancer drug Avastin in Europe, which accounts for a fifth of its sales. The U.S., the biggest market, accounts for a third.
Roche, which reports its earnings only every six months, said it expects to meet its full-year targets for 2013, including group sales in line with last year's 4 percent growth. Unlike many of its major competitors, the company benefits from having strong sellers whose patents are not expiring soon.
But, along with many other major Swiss companies, it has battled against the strength of the franc in recent years, a situation that somewhat reversed in 2012. Roche said the rise of the franc against the yen by 13 percent impacted its group sales in francs by 1 percent.
Shares in Roche were trading up 0.2 percent Thursday afternoon at 226 francs on the Zurich exchange.