AstraZeneca gets sales boost as Nexium drug keeps on giving

Thu Nov 6, 2014 7:50am EST
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By Ben Hirschler

LONDON (Reuters) - AstraZeneca raised its 2014 sales forecast for the second quarter in a row on Thursday, as the delayed arrival of generic copies of its Nexium drug in the United States kept cash flowing from the heartburn and ulcer pill.

Britain's second biggest drugmaker, which saw off a $118 billion takeover bid from Pfizer in May, now expects revenue to grow in low single digits at constant exchange rates this year, after previously being seen flat.

The upgrade follows a better-than-expected sales performance in the third quarter, helped by the Nexium factor.

Chief Executive Pascal Soriot, who has fought hard to prove AstraZeneca has a strong independent future and does not need the kind of mega-merger offered by Pfizer, said he would use the better financial outlook to accelerate investment in new drugs.

The company will also get an upfront payment of $325 million from Aegerion Pharmaceuticals, after agreeing to sell the U.S. company its rare disease drug Myalept.

Soriot sought to reassure shareholders new investments would be managed carefully by predicting that earnings next year would be no worse than the lower end of the range expected for 2014.

"Cost control will likely be a major focus in 2015 as the company tries to mitigate the damage of finally losing Nexium in the U.S.," said Berenberg Bank analyst Alistair Campbell.

AstraZeneca now expects "core" earnings per share (EPS), which exclude some items, to fall around 10 percent this year at constant rates. That is better than anticipated previously, but is offset by an anticipated currency hit of about 5 percent.   Continued...

A sign is seen at an AstraZeneca site in Macclesfield, central England May 19, 2014.  REUTERS/Phil Noble