Roche's Diagnostic Business Sales Offer a Bright Spot in Q4

Roche's diagnostic business revenues increased by 28% in the Swiss pharma company's fourth quarter results, driven primarily by its COVID-19 products.

For the full year, sales in Roche's diagnostics division grew by 14%, bringing in CHF 13.8bn in 2020 compared to CHF 12.9bn in 2019.

The company's molecular diagnostics products mainly fuelled that growth, thanks to Roche's growing portfolio of COVID-19 tests, growing over 90% in 2020 at constant exchange rates.

Roche launched a total of 15 tests for COVID-19 throughout 2020, including rapid tests given at the point-of-care and tests designed for clinical laboratory evaluation.

“Roche continues to make important contributions to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Severin Schwan, chief executive officer of Roche.

“We developed in record time a comprehensive portfolio of diagnostic solutions and entered new partnerships to develop and produce effective COVID-19 medicines,” he added.

Elsewhere in Roche's Q4 results, the company's pharmaceuticals division took a hit, slipping 2% in 2020 due to the continuing impact from biosimilars on key products, including its cancer treatments Herceptin (trastuzumab), Avastin (bevacizumab) and Rituxan (rituximab).

All in all, this caused a CHF 5.1bn decrease in sales in the pharmaceuticals division over the course of 2020.

However, group sales climbed by 1% overall at constant exchange rates to CHF 58.3bn, while Q4 sales also increased by 1% thanks to the strength of the Swiss franc.

Looking ahead to 2021, Roche has projected sales to grow in the low- to mid-single digit range at constant exchange rates, despite the continuing and profound impact of biosimilar competition on its pharma products.

The company is expecting some growth opportunity relating to its COVID-19 sales in 2021, although Roche Diagnostics' chief executive officer Thomas Schinecker said in an earnings call that there will be some uncertainty as the year progresses.

“So for me, I think the first half year is very clear where we have most of our sales in terms of COVID sales for 2021. And then second half year, we'll see how certain things develop,” he said.

“If you look at the sales development last year, diagnostics sales were really kicking in only in the second half of the year. So there's no doubt that in the first half of this year, we will have very strong growth in diagnostics,” added Schwan.