Roche forecast a pick up in sales growth this year as it overcomes a slump in demand for its COVID-19 products and a decline in sales of a trio of established cancer drugs abates.

The Swiss drugs and diagnostic maker said on Thursday that group sales, which include diagnostics, would grow by a mid-single digit percentage, when adjusted for currency swings.

Sales in 2023 rose 1% to 58.7 billion Swiss francs ($68 billion), slightly below analysts' average estimate of closer to 60 billion francs, according to LSEG data. That was down from 63.3 billion francs in 2022.

Adjusted operating profit slipped 1% last year to 19.2 billion francs, less than analysts' consensus forecast of 19.6 billion francs, as compiled by LSEG.

CEO Thomas Schinecker told reporters it was a "significant achievement" that the company increased sales despite the sharp drop in demand for its COVID therapy and diagnostics kits.

In 2023, COVID sales declined by 4.3 billion francs. Roche had predicted they would drop 4.5 billion francs.

At its third-quarter earnings, Roche's shares fell when it did not raise 2023 sales guidance from a low-single digit rise.

Schinecker, at the helm since March 2023, said a strong Swiss franc weighed on the value of overseas sales. During the fourth quarter, the U.S dollar was about 8% lower than a year earlier on average against the franc.

Roche is banking on new drug Vabysmo, which is used to treat a common form of blindness in the elderly and which won approval in 2022, to drive short-term growth and said on Thursday the drug had become one of its best selling medicines.

Revenues from Vabysmo came in just better-than-expected at 2.4 billion francs last year.

Roche is marketing the drug as a treatment option that can be given at longer intervals than the regimen of established rival Eylea from Bayer and partner Regeneron . But it faces a challenge in the longer-term from a high-dose version of Eylea, which requires less frequent injections and won U.S. approval in August, followed by other large markets including Europe.

But sales of Roche's other key growth drivers, such as Hemlibra against haemophilia and Ocrevus against multiple sclerosis, came in shy of analyst forecasts.

New CEO Schinecker is pursuing a variety of therapeutic fields to offset falling oncology sales and last year set a high deal pace to restore a development pipeline that was hit in 2022 by major trial setbacks in Alzheimer's and cancer immunotherapy.

Roche jumped on the obesity drug bandwagon in November by agreeing to take over weight-loss drug developer Carmot Therapeutics for $2.7 billion.

But despite a flurry of deals, analysts have said there is a lack of trial read-outs scheduled for this year to give Roche an opportunity to regain investor trust in its ability to find promising treatments.

Schinecker reiterated on Thursday that the company was looking to acquire drug assets in all states of development.

($1 = 0.8634 Swiss francs) (Reporting by Maggie Fick and Ludwig Burger; Editing by Michael Perry and Mark Potter)