By John Miller
ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss drugmaker Roche raised its 2019 outlook after first-quarter sales rose 8 percent, beating analyst estimates on the strength of newer medicines including multiple sclerosis treatment Ocrevus and cancer immunotherapy Tecentriq.
Sales are now expected to grow in the mid-single-digit range at constant exchange rates, Roche said on Wednesday, up from the previous forecast of low-to-mid-single-digit growth. Core earnings per share were seen broadly mirroring sales growth.
Revenue rose to 14.8 billion Swiss francs (£11.3 billion), compared to the 14.2 billion franc average estimate in an Infront Data poll for Reuters. Ocrevus sales rose 67 percent to 836 million francs. Tecentriq more than doubled to 336 million francs.
While the Basel-based drugmaker's big-selling cancer drugs Rituxan and Herceptin continued to be buffeted by competition from copies in Europe, Chief Executive Severin Schwan's bet on newer medicines like Ocrevus and Tecentriq to offset the hit to his portfolio's older drugs continues to pay off.
"We have started the year with strong sales growth, driven by the newly launched products in our pharmaceuticals division," Schwan said in a statement. "Demand for our new medicines remains high."
Pharmaceuticals sales rose 10 percent, at constant currency exchange rates, to 11.9 billion francs, largely driven by accelerating business in China, Roche's second-biggest market now after the United States. Diagnostics sales were 1 percent higher, at 2.9 billion francs.
(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Michael Shields)