2018 was a good year for Roche. The Swiss-headquartered pharma giant saw seven percent overall sales growth reach a total of CHF 56.8 billion (USD 56.7 billion). Roche’s pharmaceuticals division grew by seven percent, as did its diagnostics arm, thanks in large part due to increasing demand for immunodiagnostic solutions.


[Ocrevus is] the most successful launch in the history of Roche.

Severin Schwan, Roche CEO

Like other large innovative pharmaceuticals firms, Roche has been facing stern competition from biosimilar products, especially in Europe. European sales were down by seven percent on 2017 thanks to competition from biosimilars for Roche’s cancer blockbusters Rituxan (sales of which were down 47 percent) and Herceptin (down 16 percent).


However, offsetting these losses were Roche’s multiple sclerosis (MS) drug, Ocrevus, cancer drugs Perjeta, Tecentriq, and Alecensa, and haemophilia medicine Hemlibra. In just its first full year on the market and having already crossed the blockbuster line in the first half of 2018, Ocrevus grew sales to CHF 680 million (USD 685 million) in fourth quarter 2018, bringing its whole-year haul to CHF 2.35 billion and prompting CEO Severin Schwan to declare it “the most successful launch in the history of Roche.” In a statement, Roche said that Ocrevus’ growth has been driven by both new demand and follow-up treatments, with altogether 80,000 people having used it as of December.


Looking to 2019, Roche will face further biosimilar competition, including in the US, where Celltrion and Teva’s Truxima, the first Rituxan biosimilar for the US market, was approved by the FDA in November 2018. The first Herceptin copycat is already FDA-approved, and launches are expected in mid-2019.


Nonetheless, Schwan is sanguine about Roche’s potential for further growth. Commenting on the annual report’s findings, he noted that, “In 2018, Roche achieved very good growth in both divisions. I am particularly pleased with the very strong demand for our new medicines, delivering significant benefit for patients fighting serious diseases like cancer, multiple sclerosis and haemophilia. Roche is also making major progress in driving digitalisation, and in leveraging real-world healthcare data and analytics to support product development and advance personalised healthcare. Based on the successful launches and our strong product pipeline Roche is well positioned for continued growth.”