Roche maintains 2020 outlook as Covid-19 hits second quarter sales

Swiss drugmaker says patients shied away from hospitals as pandemic took hold

Photograph: iStock

Photograph: iStock


Swiss drugmaker Roche stuck to its full-year outlook even as second-quarter sales tumbled nearly 10 per cent, hurt by a rising Swiss franc and patients who shied away from hospital visits as the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted healthcare worldwide.

Second-quarter sales dropped 9.6 per cent to 14.1 billion Swiss francs (€13.1 billion). Factoring out the strong Swiss franc, revenue fell 4 per cent, Roche said. First-half profit fell to 8.5 billion Swiss francs from 8.9 billion.

Sales for 2020 were still seen growing in the low- to mid-single-digit percentage range at constant exchange rates, Roche said on Thursday, with core earnings per share growing broadly in line with sales. Roche also expects to hike its dividend.

With the sales decline, Roche joins Swiss rival Novartis in reporting patients who would otherwise have gone to the hospital or doctor instead hunkering down at home amid Covid-19 lockdowns. Novartis this week trimmed its 2020 sales outlook.

For Roche, multiple sclerosis drug Ocrevus, haemophilia treatment Hemlibra, eye drug Lucentis and blood cancer treatment Rituxan took a beating, as “the corona pandemic continues to pose an enormous challenge worldwide,” chief executive Severin Schwan said in a statement.

And while Roche benefited from Covid-19 diagnostics including tests that show active infections and antibody tests to find past infections, routine testing “decreased significantly” due to a decline in regular health checks, Mr Schwan said.

Consequently, Roche’s first-half diagnostic sales fell to 6.1 billion francs from 6.3 billion. The main drugs unit’s sales fell 4 per cent to 23.3 billion francs.

Arthritis drug Actemra continued to book Covid-19 gains, with revenue rising 36 per cent to 1.5 billion francs as doctors try it against severe immune system reactions. Scientific studies have yet to produce data showing if it really works. – Reuters