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Pharma figures reveal a healthy Basel

Both Roche and Novartis are reaping a harvest of increased sales and profit (Roche)

If financial figures are anything to go by, Basel’s two main pharmaceuticals companies – Novartis and Roche – can be considered "fighting fit".

Both have produced results for the first six months of the year above the industry average.

Roche on Wednesday reported net profit of SFr3.24 billion ($2.5 billion), up four per cent over the comparable period last year, while Novartis last week posted net income of $3.12 billion, up by 12 per cent.

But what about their prospects for the remainder of the year?

Novartis has been producing record results ever since it was created in 1996 with the merger of Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz. And it has said it is on target to produce another bumper crop of operating and net profit figures this year.

Roche has even strengthened its 2005 outlook for pharmaceuticals and reaffirmed it for its diagnostics division.

Sales performance

Analyst Denise Anderson at Kepler Equities told swissinfo that one of the main differences between the two Basel giants in the first six months was sales performance.

"While Novartis pharmaceuticals recorded nine per cent local currency growth, we saw 22 per cent at Roche."

Anderson expects that both companies will not perform quite as well in the second half of the year as in the first.

"Novartis doesn’t have any big launches [of new products], so we don’t see any acceleration in growth because of that, but the current products will continue to do well."

Although Roche will lose a patent on one of its top-selling drugs in the United States, the antibiotic Rocephin, it is expected that increased sales of the influenza drug Tamiflu and the introduction of cancer drug Avastin in Europe will help compensate for that to some extent.

Roche better

Analyst Morten Herholdt at Barclays Stockbrokers in London believes that both Roche and Novartis are in a position to do well but like Anderson he feels Roche will do better.

"On a near-term basis, the scale for potential for Roche is probably going to make it the slightly better performer," he told swissinfo.

One of the key elements that analysts and investors look at in the pharmaceuticals industry is the drugs pipeline.

Anderson points out that there has been much positive news from Roche in the critical phase three clinical trials of Avastin, the cancer dug Herceptin and its degeneration drug Lucentis.

She feels that the phase three trials at Novartis of SPP100 (hypertension) and the diabetes drug LAF237 are critical.

"If those drugs fail, I think Novartis will have a couple of tough years to continue to outperform the market until the next crop of phase threes come. If it succeeds on the other hand, that certainly would be positive," she said.

Heavy spending

While both companies have been producing financial figures that are envied by the competition, they have also not been afraid to spend heavily to acquire companies or portfolios of products that they consider will add value.

Roche announced only on Tuesday that it was acquiring a Swiss developer of biotech cancer drugs, GlycArt, for about SFr235 million.

And Novartis last week said it was strengthening its over-the-counter business by acquiring the rights to produce and market a North American product range. The deal with New York-based firm Bristol-Myers Squibb is worth $660 million.

Earlier this year, the company announced major plans to become the world’s biggest producer of generic drugs, with its purchase of Germany’s privately held Hexal.

The deal includes spending €5.65 billion (SFr8.75 billion) in cash for outright ownership of Hexal and a two-thirds stake in United States company Eon Labs, both of which will be integrated into its Sandoz generics unit.

Both companies are currently making the city of Basel "tremendously healthy", according to analyst Herholdt.

"Swiss pharma is probably the place to be in Europe for the latter part of the year," he said.

swissinfo, Robert Brookes

Key facts

Roche first-half figures:
Sales - SFr16.62 billion
Net profit - SFr3.24 billion

Novartis first-half figures:
Sales: $15.14 billion
Net profit: $3.12 billion

end of infobox

In brief

Novartis has a 33.3% stake in Roche and would like to merge with it.

But the families which own the majority of Roche have made it clear that they would reject any overture.

end of infobox


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