AstraZeneca hikes profit forecast as early swine flu sales boost revenues

ASTRAZENECA, the UK&rsquo;s second biggest drug company, yesterday increased its full-year outlook for the second quarter in a row yesterday as profits jumped 24 per cent, beating forecasts. <br /><br />The group reported pre-tax profits of $3.03bn (&pound;1.83bn) for its third quarter as revenues rose by five per cent to $8.2bn, helped by earlier-than-expected sales from its swine flu vaccine.<br /><br />But the one-off nature of the gain from flu and other factors diluted the strong results, and investors fretted over prospects for new blood thinner Brilinta, pushing shares in the drugmaker lower.<br /><br />AstraZeneca has been helped this year by the resilience of the pharmaceutical sales and delays in cheap generic versions of heart drug Toprol XL and cancer treatment Casodex -- though both have now been launched in the United States. The sale of H1N1 swine flu vaccine to the US government by the group&rsquo;s MedImmune unit has been an added bonus, contributing $152m to sales in the third quarter -- a lot more than the nominal $25 that analysts had forecast.<br /><br />Finance chief Simon Lowth said: &ldquo;The business has performed more strongly on the top line than we had anticipated and we haven&rsquo;t experienced quite the extent of the headwind that we had anticipated.&rdquo;