The second largest biotechnology company Genentech Inc. reported an increase of 12 percent in its first-quarter profits helped by more sells of its cancer drug Avastin.

The San Francisco, Cal. based group said on Thursday its net income in the first quarter rose to $790 million or 74 cents a share compared to $706 million or 66 cents a share in the previous year.

According to Genentech it could have earned $895 million or 84 cents a share if it excludes special expenses. Based on these numbers, the results surpasses the estimates of 82 cents a share by analysts in Wall Street, according to a research from Thomson Financial.

Genentech's most popular product Avastin contributed significantly to the first quarter earnings because it was newly approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in February 2008. The FDA set the green light for its administration in patients with breast cancer.

According to Bloomberg, the company has gained 8.9 percent since the date of the approval and it will boost Avastin's global sales to $4 billion in 2011, according to Maged Shenouda, an UBS analyst in New York quoted by Bloomberg.

Despite of the great expectations, the product recorded sales of $600 million in this quarter, short by $24 million the forecasts made in Wall Street, Reuters noted.

Now Avastin can be administrated to patients with lung, colon and breast cancer and is seeking to be approved for a type of brain cancer during this year.

Genentech Inc. shares were 0.29 cents up or 0.37 percent at $78 at closing trade on Thursday.