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Roche sees strong Tamiflu sales

BASEL, Jul 23 – Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche said Thursday it would sell another 658 million euros of anti-flu drug Tamiflu by the end of 2009, having already sold a similar amount this year.

Roche chief executive Severin Schwan told journalists the group expected to sell "around one billion (Swiss) francs" (658 million euros, 937 million dollars) more of the anti-flu drug.

They had already sold about that much between January and June 2009.

Tamiflu sales were tailing off last year, reaching just 609 million francs for the full year.

But following the emergence of the A(H1N1) virus and its rapid spread around the world this year to pandemic levels, sales of the drug soared 203 percent in the first half of the year.

Sales to governments and corporations stockpiling the drug had reached 653 million francs during the first six months of the year, the company said.

Tamiflu is one of two recommended by the World Health Organisation to treat the flu.

"Additional government stockpiling orders and increased demand in the retail pharmacy market contributed to the particularly strong sales recorded in the second quarter," it added.

Sales to Japan, for instance, leapt 1,510 percent while those to Europe increased 869 percent.

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The WHO said on Tuesday that the death toll worldwide from swine flu since the outbreak was first identified in Mexico in April had jumped above 700, 40 percent up from early July.

Isolated cases of Tamiflu-resistant A(H1N1) have turned up in several countries including the United States and Japan, but the WHO has reiterated that the drug was recommended to treat the disease.

Governments have moved to stockpile Tamiflu and Roche said it would be increasing its production capacity of the drug to 400 million packs annually by 2010.

Publishing its first half earnings statement on Thursday, the group also "substantially raised" its earnings forecasts.

Full-year sales for both its pharmaceutical and diagnostics divisions would grow "well ahead of market", it said.

In the first half, overall sales reached 24 billion Swiss francs, up 9.0 percent, said the group.

Net profit was however down 29 percent to 4.1 billion Swiss francs due to charges related to the acquisition of Genentech.

Bank Helvea analyst Karl-Heinz Koch described Roche\’s earnings as "substantially above expectations" and rated the stock a "buy."

The upgraded outlook for 2010 did not even include sales for Tamiflu, even though "Tamiflu is a swing factor for 2010," he noted.

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At 1130 GMT, the stock was trading up 2.5 percent at 158.40 francs, outperforming the overall Swiss Market Index which was up 0.63 percent.

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