(Adds details, CEO comment)
ZURICH, July 26 (Reuters) - Swiss drugmaker Roche lifted its 2018 outlook on Thursday for the second time this year, after first-half sales and profit easily beat analysts' expectations on the strength of newer drugs, including multiple sclerosis treatment Ocrevus.
The company's first-half sales rose 7 percent to 28.1 billion francs ($28.35 billion), compared with average forecast of 27.5 billion francs in a Reuters poll. Its core operating result climbed to 11.2 billion francs, compared with forecast of 10.369 billion francs.
Roche raised its outlook for 2018, and now expects mid-single digit sales growth, at constant exchange rates, up from an expected low single-digit percentage rise. Core earnings per share, excluding the U.S. tax reform changes, will grow broadly in line with sales, the company said.
Roche Chief Executive Severin Schwan is compensating for the patent losses on his older, lucrative medicines including Rituxan and Herceptin with new drugs that are gaining steam with doctors and patients.
Ocrevus, in its second year on the market, topped the blockbuster $1 billion threshold after just six months.
"Given the very good, continuously growing uptake of our new medicines, we are well on track to rejuvenate our portfolio," Schwan said. "The growth of our business will continue, also beyond the current year."
Biosimilars are taking a bigger bite out of Roche's older drugs. Rituxan slipped 9 percent globally after sales in Europe - which is home to numerous, cheaper competitors - plunged almost 50 percent.
$1 = 0.9912 Swiss francs Reporting by John Miller, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips