AstraZeneca hit by patent loss on key drugs

ASTRAZENECA’S sales fell by a bigger-than-expected 13 per cent in the first quarter as patent expiries took a heavy toll, the firm said yesterday, underscoring the turnaround challenge facing Britain’s second-largest pharmaceuticals firm.

Much of the damage was caused by loss of exclusivity on antipsychotic medicine Seroquel and heart drug Atacand in many markets.

But the company’s top-selling cholesterol fighter Crestor was also hit by generic competition in Canada, pricing pressure in Australia and worse-than-expected sales in the US.

The poor performance suggests new chief executive Pascal Soriot has his work cut out to reverse the fortunes of the struggling drugmaker, despite some tentative signs of improvement in a few growth areas.

Demand for Brilinta – a new heart drug for which AstraZeneca has high hopes – picked up modestly to $51m from $38m in the last quarter of 2012.

Emerging markets were also a relative bright spot, with sales up nine per cent at constant currencies, largely driven by a 21 per cent increase in China. Sales of a number of diabetes products, however, were lower than analysts had hoped.

Sales in the quarter of $6.39bn generated core pre-tax profit, which excludes certain items, down 25 per cent at $2.32bn. Full reported pre-tax profit was down to $1.3bn, from $2bn in the year-ago quarter.

Chief financial officer Simon Lowth said AstraZeneca’s strategy was on track, in terms of investing for future growth, with a lot more effort being put behind the promotion of Brilinta in the US market in particular.

“We expect to see the [Brilinta] trajectory really start to steepen and accelerate on the back of those investments towards the back-end of this year,” he told reporters on a conference call.