* Genentech provides EPS, revenue forecasts through 2018
* Says Avastin sales could reach $10 bln by 2015
* Shares off 3 pct (Adds CFO, analyst comments, updates shares)
By Bill Berkrot
NEW YORK, March 2 (Reuters) - Genentech Inc provided earnings and revenue growth projections for every year through 2018 and said its cancer drug Avastin could reach $10 billion in annual sales by 2015, as it aimed to demonstrate that the company is worth far more than Roche is willing to pay for it.
Genentech DNA.N Chief Executive Arthur Levinson opened an annual meeting with analysts and investors at a New York hotel on Monday by telling investors that Roche’s offer of $86.50 per share does not “adequately reflect the value and future potential of Genentech’s business.”
Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding AG ROG.VX is attempting to acquire the 44 percent of Genentech it does not already own for about $42 billion.
“I don’t think there’s any risk that the tender won’t be rejected,” said Cowen & Co analyst Eric Schmidt.
Chief Financial Officer David Ebersman drew applause from investors when he put up a slide of Roche’s development pipeline thoroughly dominated by Genentech programs.
The acquisition would give Roche full control of Genentech’s medicines and pipeline. It currently holds rights to sell the drugs outside the United States.
The CFO outlined several areas in which Genentech disagrees with Roche’s valuation of the company, including projected tax rates, future pricing, Avastin’s potential and competition.
The world’s second-largest biotechnology company pushed up the date of the meeting to make its case ahead of the initial March 12 expiration date of Roche’s tender offer, and gave best case projections of its future potential.
Levinson declined to state what he thought a fair price for the remainder of the company might be. “But it ain’t $86.50, I can tell you that,” he told Reuters.
But with a late winter snowstorm as a backdrop, Genentech provided an avalanche of information about its research, future product prospects, wealth of patents and financial picture intended to demonstrate the inadequacy of the Roche offer.
“We view the meeting as a cogent argument that Genentech investors should hold their shares for what we believe will be a raised bid from Roche,” said Geoff Meacham, an analyst for J.P. Morgan.
The company forecast 2009 earnings, excluding items, of $3.85 per share, growing to $12.86 per share by 2018. Genentech expects U.S. sales this year of $10.7 billion, rising to $22.1 billion by 2018.
Genentech in January forecast a 2009 earnings range of $3.55 per share to $3.90 per share.
Susan Desmond-Hellman, product development chief, said Genentech has 25 new molecular entities in development; and Avastin, the company’s most important growth driver, could be approved for 20 additional uses by 2015.
She said she is “cautiously optimistic” about the outcome of a key trial of Avastin in colon cancer patients who have undergone surgery. That information is due next month.
Analysts believe positive results from that study, which could lead to Avastin’s expanded use in earlier stage colon cancer patients, would likely drive Genentech’s share price well beyond Roche’s current offer.
The company expects a steady drumbeat of Avastin data over the next few years, including a trio of studies in breast cancer following surgery. The drug is being studied in several cancers and is awaiting a U.S. approval decision for use in brain cancer.
Commercial operations chief Ian Clark said Avastin alone has the potential for $10 billion in annual sales by 2015 should all of its clinical programs prove successful.
The company outlined an aggressive program against Alzheimer’s disease, potential new uses for its eye disease drug Lucentis and other newer cancer treatments showing early promise. Lucentis sales could reach $2.1 billion by 2018, Clark said.
Genentech shares were down 3.4 percent to $82.66 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange -- slightly less of a decline than the broader markets.
“The stock held up pretty well over the past couple of weeks when the market was in freefall, so 3 percent isn’t a particularly significant move these days,” Schmidt said. (Additional reporting by Toni Clarke in Boston; Editing by Derek Caney, Gerald E. McCormick)