The first generic copy of Roche's top-selling flu pill Tamiflu hit the U.S. market on Monday, marking a further step in the Swiss drugmaker's enforced evolution to reliance on a new wave of blockbuster medicines.
Unlisted generic drugmaker Alvogen, which developed the cut-price version with India's Natco Pharma, said it expected the cheaper product to save the U.S. healthcare system up to $500 million in the upcoming flu season.
Over the years, Tamiflu has provided Roche with occasional windfall profits as flu epidemics have led to spikes in demand, most notably during global H1N1 swine flu outbreak in 2009 when revenue from the drug hit almost $3 billion.
Since then sales have fallen back and Tamiflu is currently a relatively small component of Roche's overall revenue, which reached $37 billion in the first nine months of 2016.
Roche faces bigger generic challenges starting next year, when the first so-called biosimilar versions of its injectable biotech cancer drugs are expected to reach the market in Europe.
Its three established cancer blockbusters Rituxan, Herceptin and Avastin, which account for annual sales of around $20 billion, all face biosimilar competition by the end of the decade in major markets.
Roche is banking on success with a new batch of biotech drugs for cancer and other serious diseases to help fill the gap.
(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Andrew Heavens)