The appreciation of the Swiss franc against many currencies had a negative impact on the results expressed in Swiss francs compared to constant exchange rates.
Sales in the Pharmaceuticals Division decreased 9% to CHF 10.6 billion, mainly because of the continued biosimilars competition and the COVID-19 pandemic. As expected, the first quarter of 2021 was particularly challenging due to base effects, as the pandemic only started to have a significant business impact at Roche as of April 2020.
The impact of biosimilars on sales of the established cancer medicines MabThera/Rituxan, Avastin and Herceptin remained significant (combined sales reduction of CHF 1.6 billion), especially in the US.
Moreover, the pandemic continued to have a negative impact overall on the division’s sales, especially for medicines where regular visits to hospitals or health practices are needed (ie, for infusions). This was partly compensated by additional sales of medicines used to treat COVID-19 (Actemra/RoActemra +22%, mostly for treating patients with severe COVID-19-associated pneumonia2, plus the recently launched antibody combination casirivimab/imdevimab).
The new medicines (launched since 20123) grew by 20% (or CHF +880 million) and generated sales of CHF 5.2 billion. Overall, demand continued to grow encouragingly, though here too the impact of the lower number of doctor’s visits was clearly noticeable.
In the United States, sales decreased by 14%, as a result of the continued competition from biosimilars for the above mentioned cancer medicines (combined CHF -1.0 billion). This decline was partially compensated for by the new products (mainly Evrysdi, Ocrevus, Hemlibra and Tecentriq) and Actemra/RoActemra for COVID-19-associated pneumonia.
In Europe, sales decreased by 6%, as demand for the new products (including the antibody combination casirivimab/imdevimab) was only partly able to offset the impact of lower sales for the established cancer medicines (mainly Avastin) and impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Japan, sales decreased by 7%. This decline was mainly driven by the osteoporosis medicine Edirol and the competition from biosimilars. This was partially offset by sales of cancer immunotherapy Tecentriq.
In the International region, sales were stable. The impact of biosimilars was compensated by new products (Perjeta, Tecentriq and Ocrevus) and COVID-19 related Actemra/RoActemra sales.
The Diagnostics Division reported very strong sales growth of 55% to CHF 4.3 billion, mainly due to Roche’s comprehensive and growing portfolio of COVID-19 tests. The Point of Care and Molecular Lab businesses made the largest contributions (+281% and +86%, respectively) with COVID-19 testing.
Routine diagnostic testing, which was also greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020, recorded strong growth.
Additional product launches in the first quarter, such as a research-use PCR test to help monitor SARS-CoV-2 mutations, further strengthened Roche’s position as the world’s leading supplier of COVID-19 tests.
All regions reported very strong sales growth: EMEA4 and Asia-Pacific (both +62%), North America (+34%) and Latin America (+71%).
In March, Roche signed a definitive merger agreement with GenMark Diagnostics for approx. USD 1.8 billion5. Acquiring GenMark will give Roche access to a novel technology that can test a wide range of pathogens with one patient sample. It will broaden Roche’s molecular lab portfolio, including tests for COVID-19. The transaction is expected to close in the second quarter of 2021. ■
Amid growing international concern about South Korean government action against striking truck drivers, the ITF together with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU) submitted requests to the International Labour Organization (ILO) Director-General and the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.