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Roche Lifts Full Year Outlook, Sees Higher Dividend Following ‘Strong’ First Quarter Sales

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Swiss drugmaker Roche (ROG.VX) said early Wednesday that it started the year with “strong” sales growth in the first quarter, driven by newly launched products in its pharmaceuticals division, allowing the group to lift its full-year outlook and setting the stage for a further increase in dividends.

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Group revenue rose to 14.83 billion Swiss francs ($14.75 billion) during the January-to-March period, from 13.58 billion francs a year ago, a jump of 8% at constant exchange rates, the Basel-based company said in a trading update.

The pharmaceuticals unit, the faster of the firm’s two divisions in terms of revenue growth, reported a 10% surge in its turnover mainly on the back of multiple sclerosis drug Ocrevus; cancer medicines Perjeta and Tecentriq; and the new hemophilia treatment Hemlibra. International sales grew at the fastest clip, 17%, led by China.

With demand for the company’s new medicines remaining “high,” Roche offset a 6% decline in Europe competition from biosimilars for Herceptin — whose revenue slumped by 44% — and MabThera/Rituxan, which also saw sales plunge by 38%.

The group further pointed out that European and US regulatory authorities approved new indications for a number of Roche medicines, granted priority review procedures for and recommended approvals of several drug candidates during the first quarter.

Tecentriq, in combination with various other compounds, was given approval in the treatment of different types of cancer, while Entrectinib was granted a priority review in the US for the treatment of adult and pediatric patients with tumors.

“Health authorities granted a number of important approvals in the first quarter,” Chief Executive Officer Severin Schwan said in the statement. “These include the first cancer immunotherapies for triple-negative breast cancer and small cell lung cancer, two diseases with high unmet patient need.”

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Based on the performance in the first quarter, Schwan said the group has decided to raise its outlook for the full-year 2019, with sales now expected to grow in the mid-single digit range at constant exchange rates, versus a previous estimate of low- to mid-single digit range. Core earnings per share are targeted to grow “broadly in line” with sales. Roche expects to further lift its dividend, which last year stood at 8.70 Swiss francs.

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