AstraZeneca hikes guidance

ASTRAZENECA’s first quarter profits soared by 29 per cent, helped by sales of its cholesterol drug Crestor and schizophrenia medicine Seroquel.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker smashed expectations and has upped its profit target for the full-year following the sharp rise in earnings. Emerging market sales were also behind the strong results, the company added.

“We saw revenue growth in all major regions, including another strong quarter in emerging markets,” chief executive David Brennan revealed.

Net profit was $2.9bn (£1.8bn), compared with $2.3bn in the same period a year ago. Sales were up 11 per cent to $8.6bn from 2009.

On the back of the strong numbers, the group raised its prediction for 2010 “core” earnings, which exclude certain restructuring costs and charges, to between $6.05 and $6.35 from a previous forecast of $5.90 to $6.30 and against 2009’s $6.32.

But the drugmaker, like many of its rivals, faces competition from generic versions of its drugs which is set to increase in the months ahead while its new drug hopes have yet to prove their commercial potential.

AstraZeneca, led by chief executive David Brennan, is heading for one of the biggest patent “cliffs” in the industry, with the loss of exclusivity on acid reflux drug Nexium and Seroquel.

“I don’t think anything is going to be easier in the second half, but they’ve put more in the bank in the first quarter than we expected,” said Paul Diggle, an analyst at Ambrian Partners.

A judge is also due to rule in June or July on the patent protecting Crestor, which is a cardiovascular drug. Crestor sales totaled $1.3bn during the period against a market forecast $1.2bn.

AstraZeneca’s shares closed up 2.1 per cent on the London Stock Exchange yesterday at 2,897p.