Roche has reported a 3% increase in group sales to $16.247bn (CHF14.9bn) in the first quarter of 2021 at constant exchange rates.

In the pharmaceuticals division, sales witnessed a 9% decline to $11.558bn (CHF10.6bn), primarily due to the continued biosimilars competition and the global Covid-19 pandemic.

The pandemic only started to have a significant business impact at Roche as of April last year and the first quarter of this year was particularly challenging due to base effects.

Roche CEO Severin Schwan said: “In 2021, Roche remains strongly committed to the fight against Covid-19. The uptake of our recently introduced diagnostic tests and medicines remains strong while we continue to see the expected impact from biosimilars on sales of our established medicines.

“I am particularly pleased about the highly encouraging study results of our immunotherapy Tecentriq in early lung cancer and of faricimab in ophthalmology.”

Last month, the company signed a definitive merger agreement with GenMark Diagnostics for nearly $1.8bn.

Schwan further added: “The upcoming acquisition of GenMark underlines our commitment to helping control infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance. Based on the results of the first quarter of 2021, we confirm the outlook for the full year.”

Roche noted that the impact of biosimilars on sales of the established cancer medicines MabThera/Rituxan, Avastin and Herceptin remained significant, specifically in the US.

The new medicines, launched in 2012, increased by 20% and generated sales of $5.6bn (CHF5.2bn).

Sales in the US decreased by 14% as a result of the continued competition from biosimilars for cancer medicines. In Europe and Japan, sales decreased by 6% and 7%, respectively.

The company reported stable sales in the international region.

During the first quarter, the Diagnostics Division reported strong sales growth of 55% to $4.6bn (CHF4.3bn), mainly due to the comprehensive and growing portfolio of Roche’s Covid-19 tests.

Last year, routine diagnostic testing was also greatly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. It now recorded strong growth.