First-quarter sales at Roche Holding AG , the Swiss drugmaker that recently bought Genentech for $46.8 billion, rose 8 percent and met forecasts thanks to the strong growth of blockbuster cancer drug Avastin.

Roche said on Thursday it was confident of meeting its full-year targets and would update its outlook to include the impact of the Genentech deal with half-year results in July.

Pharmaceutical companies have been relatively insulated from the recession as health care is traditionally one of the last areas that consumers cut back on spending, but even so, they are still seeing some slowdown.

Roche is aiming for mid-single-digit sales growth for both divisions and the group and for its core earnings per share target to remain at the 2008 level in spite of more investment in research and development and a lower net financial result.

Sales in both divisions continued to grow significantly faster than their respective markets. We are therefore confident that we can achieve our full-year targets, Chief Executive Severin Schwan said in a statement.

Quarterly sales rose to 11.6 billion Swiss francs ($10.17 billion), in line with the average estimate of 11.65 billion in a Reuters poll of 16 analysts.

Sales of Avastin -- for which key clinical data in colon patients who have undergone surgery is expected soon -- rose 30 percent to 1.5 billion francs and drove Roche's overall revenue growth.

Investors are keen to know more about Roche's plans to integrate Genentech after it said the U.S. group's chief executive, Arthur Levinson, would stay on as chair of a new board.

Roche said integration plans will be finalized by mid-year and it aims to have completed the process by the end of 2009.

In Swiss francs, sales rose 7 percent as the weaker euro weighed, Roche said.

Roche trades at nearly 12 times expected 2010 earnings, a healthy premium to other big European drugmakers -- Swiss rival Novartis AG , GlaxoSmithKline Plc , AstraZeneca Plc and Sanofi-Aventis SA -- thanks to its strong portfolio of cancer drugs and Genentech's growth prospects.

($1=1.141 Swiss Franc)

(Editing by Sam Cage and Simon Jessop)