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Published on 26/03/15 at 11:34am

2014 turnover: $52.5 billion

Biggest drug: MabThera/Rituxan for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia

Founded by Fritz Hoffman La Roche in 1896 in Basel, Switzerland, Roche has enjoyed continuity not seen in many other pharma companies, and is still today controlled by the Hoffman family.

The fortunes of the firm have waxed and waned over the years. Roche enjoyed a golden period in the 2000s, thanks to a string of successful drugs launched in the 1990s and early 2000s, but has recently witnessed more precarious results.

Most of its previous success was based on its close relationship with Californian biotech firm Genentech, which discovered Herceptin (trastuzumab), Xeloda (capecitabine) and Avastin (bevacizumab) – and in 2009 Roche moved to merge the biotech into its main operations.

The company went through a rough patch in 2010, as sales fell due to US healthcare reforms and austerity measures in Europe, as well as a declining need for its flu drug Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate) after the H1N1 influenza pandemic petered out.

But the firm’s oncology arm saw sizeable growth of 7%, accounting for over half of its pharma sales, and it is this portfolio that has continued to keep the company afloat over the last few years.

2014’s sales of breast cancer drugs Kadcyla (trastuzumab emtansine) and Perjeta (pertuzumab) climbed by 20 per cent. Meanwhile Avastin – recently granted priority review for the treatment of women with persistent, recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer – saw sales increase by 6% to $7.1 billion, and HER2-positive breast cancer drug Herceptin helped Roche’s pharma division grow by 4% to $40.6 billion in total sales.

This has helped offset lower sales of chemotherapy drug Xeloda (capecitabine), which went off-patent in 2013, and hepatitis medicine Pegasys (peginterferon alfa-2a), which faces increased competition from a new generation of more effective hepatitis C pills like Gilead's Sovaldi.

Overall Roche saw a mild increase in sales of 1% to $52.5 billion over 2014, but the firm insists that sales in 2015 will recover due its ‘strong’ product portfolio and pipeline. Towards the beginning of the year, investigational lung cancer drug MPDL3280A was fast-tracked by the FDA for the second time, a Phase III trial of its non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma drug Gazyva (obinutuzumab) met its primary endpoint, and eye drug Lucentis (ranibizumab) was approved in the US for the treatment of diabetic retinopathy.

However, cancer is also an area where the company saw much controversy in the UK in 2014. When NICE rejected the Kadcyla for being too expensive there was outcry from charities such as Breakthrough Breast Cancer and patient groups. A petition by a breast cancer survivor even called for the company to be ‘shamed’ into lowering its price.

2014 was also a year filled with acquisitions, with Roche purchasing no less than 10 other companies. Perhaps the most notable was the acquisition of US firm InterMune in September 2014, gaining with it the breakthrough idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) drug Esbriet (pirfenidone), which was approved by the FDA in October and in Europe three years prior.

Pipeline for Roche

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