(Bloomberg) -- Roche Holding AG cut a fifth of its pipeline of experimental drugs in recent quarters as its new chief executive tries to revive growth after a series of research setbacks. 

Trimmed so far this year were a trio of cancer projects and an experimental psychiatric compound, Roche said on Wednesday as it reported falling sales for the first quarter. The stock slumped in Zurich trading. 

The Swiss drugmaker is halting projects that aren’t innovative enough and plans to fill the gaps with acquisitions, according to Chief Executive Officer Thomas Schinecker. Some trimming is still taking place, and by the third quarter Roche “will have completely rebuilt the pipeline,” he said on a conference call. 

Roche’s deal-making will focus on areas including cardiovascular and metabolism disorders, neuroscience and oncology, the CEO said. “We are open for M&A,” he said. “Based on whether or not the deal makes sense, then we are also open to doing larger acquisitions.” 

Research setbacks have left Roche — traditionally an innovation juggernaut — needing to convince investors that it has the experimental drugs it needs to fuel growth.

“Doubts around R&D productivity will take time to lift,” Peter Welford and Lucy Codrington, analysts at Jefferies, wrote in a note. 

The stock fell as much as 3% in Zurich, bringing its decline for the year to 8.9%. That compares to a 5.3% increase for crosstown rival Novartis AG. 

Pandemic Impact

Roche’s sales dropped 6% last quarter to 14.4 billion francs ($15.8 billion), held down by a strong Swiss franc and a lack of revenue from Covid-19 tests and treatments. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg expected 14.6 billion francs.

The first quarter marks the last time Roche faced an impact from plunging demand for Covid-related products. The company, which makes diagnostics as well as drugs, sold billions of dollars worth of tests in the course of the pandemic. 

Roche’s blockbuster eye treatment Vabysmo beat analysts’ expectations in the quarter with 847 million francs in sales, while cancer drug Tecentriq fell short of estimates with 865 million francs. 

Roche reiterated its forecast for sales and earnings per share excluding some items to grow in the mid-single-digit range at constant currencies this year. The pipeline trim affected 20% of new experimental medicines in the past three quarters. 

Novartis on Tuesday raised its estimates, helped by blockbuster medicines for heart disease and psoriasis. 

(Updates with CEO comment in third paragraph)

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