Roche eyes return to growth after Q1 hit by forex, loss of COVID sales

Logo of Swiss drugmaker Roche is seen in Basel

By Ludwig Burger

FRANKFURT (Reuters) -Roche confirmed ambitions to return to sales growth this year on a continued boost from eye drug Vabysmo, after first-quarter sales slipped by 6% on the loss on COVID-19-related revenue.

Quarterly sales fell to 14.4 billion Swiss francs ($15.80 billion), the family-controlled drugmaker said in a statement on Wednesday, hurt also by a strong Swiss franc that weighed on overseas revenue but in line with analysts expectations.

Roche, which does not disclose quarterly earnings, said the rest of the year would no longer be burdened by year-earlier comparisons that were inflated by COVID-related sales.

It reiterated its 2024 guidance of an increase in sales and adjusted earnings per share in the "mid single-digit" percentage range at constant exchange rates.

Excluding currency effects, quarterly revenue from Vabysmo more than doubled to 847 million francs, surpassing an analyst consensus of about 750 million francs, after long-term trial data earlier this year bolstered ophthalmologists' confidence in the drug.

Vabysmo, which is used to treat a common form of blindness in the elderly and which won approval in 2022, challenges rival drug Eylea from Bayer and partner Regeneron.

At the helm for about a year, CEO Thomas Schinecker is pursuing a variety of therapeutic fields to offset falling oncology sales, setting a high deal pace. The group suffered major drug trial setbacks in Alzheimer's and cancer immunotherapy in 2022.

Roche in December joined a list of contestants seeking to challenge weight-loss drug powerhouses Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly with the takeover of obesity drug developer Carmot for $2.7 billion upfront.

($1 = 0.9115 Swiss francs)

(Reporting by Ludwig Burger; editing by Andrey Sychev and Jason Neely)