AstraZeneca hails profits boost

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AstraZeneca posted better-than-expected profits as key brands such as Crestor helped it weather testing conditions

AstraZeneca has posted better-than-expected profits as key brands such as cholesterol product Crestor helped it weather testing conditions.

The group’s fourth-quarter haul topped forecasts at 2.7 billion dollars (£1.7 billion), a drop of 5 per cent, and meant Cheshire-based Astra delivered profits for the year of just over 13 billion dollars (£8.2 billion), up 2 per cent.

Chief executive David Brennan said the 2010 performance showed the strength and resilience of Astra’s business as it faced up to government pressure on pricing and patent expiries in the United States and Western Europe.

As well as double-digit sales growth for Crestor, Astra also generated strong revenues from asthma treatment Symbicort and Seroquel XR, which is a medicine for bipolar disorder.

Revenues from emerging markets also grew to more than 5 billion dollars (£3.1 billion), with China accounting for more than a billion dollars (£630 million).

Despite forecasting a challenging few years as the industry looks for new products and faces the loss of exclusivity on existing drugs, Astra said it continued to plan for annual revenues in the range of 28 billion dollars (£17.7 billion) to 34 billion dollars (£21.5 billion) over the 2010 to 2014 period.

The group has been hampered by problems with its newest medicines after it discontinued its motavizumab drug, used to prevent serious lung disease, leading to a 445 million dollar (£287.2 million) accounting charge.

It has also experienced further delays in winning approval from US regulators for its heart medicine Brilinta, with the US Food and Drug Administration requesting further analysis into the blood-thinning pill before clearing the drug for sale.

Astra, which employs 11,000 staff in the UK and has sites at Macclesfield and Wilmslow in Cheshire, Luton, Loughborough, Edinburgh and Brixham in Devon, said the first phase of its restructuring programme is now complete, resulting in annual cost savings of 2.4 billion dollars (£1.5 billion).

The second phase, announced last January, includes an overhaul of research and development operations and the company’s supply chain, in a drive to realise a further 1.9 billion dollars (£1.2 billion) in annual benefits. Another 8,000 jobs are likely to be slashed over the four years of the second phase, having already cut 12,600 roles.

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