AstraZeneca, which fended off a £69bn takeover attempt from American rival Pfizer almost a year ago, unveiled a better-than-expected set of quarterly results and strengthened its cancer portfolio with two new deals.
Ahead of its annual meeting on Friday afternoon, the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker also announced an alliance with blood cancer specialist Celgene to develop and sell AstraZeneca’s MEDI4736 – one of its most promising new cancer drugs – across a range of blood cancers including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Another tie-up with Innate Pharma will also boost the company’s immuno-oncology portfolio – a new class of treatments that harness the body’s immune system to fight tumours.
AstraZeneca’s chief executive Pascal Soriot is under pressure to rebuild the company’s pipeline of new drugs as a number of bestsellers come off patent, including its stomach pill Nexium and cholesterol fighter Crestor, which loses US patent protection next year. He has pledged an uplift in sales to $45bn () in 2023, from $26bn last year.
While analysts view this target as ambitious, there has been a steady flow of positive data on new treatments. AstraZeneca will present its cancer results at the closely watched American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in late May.
Soriot and the rest of the board face shareholders at the annual meeting in London this afternoon. Some investors are still thought to be unhappy that the company has not linked long-term incentives for management more strongly to the revenue targets it set out during its battle against Pfizer’s bid.
John Varley, the former Barclays boss who chairs AstraZeneca’s remuneration committee, sought to reassure major shareholders last year. He is due to retire from the board on Friday and will be replaced by Graham Chipchase, chief executive of consumer packaging group Rexam. Soriot saw his pay rise by 5% to £3.5m in 2014, despite a 62% fall in pretax profits.
AstraZeneca’s first-quarter results were better than City analysts had expected. Revenues edged up 1% to $6.1bn at constant exchange rates between January and March. Operating profits grew by 15% to $933m. The group reiterated its forecast of a low single-digit-percentage increase in 2015 core earnings.
Mick Cooper, analyst at Edison Investment Research, said:“AstraZeneca delivered solid results in the first quarter, given the significant impact of currency movements and generic erosion of various legacy products. But the company’s value is increasingly in its immuno-oncology pipeline, and this was enhanced further today by the deals with Innate Pharma and Celgene.”
Soriot hailed “tremendous progress” in the first quarter, with 7-8 new treatments expected to be filed for regulatory approval by the end of next year.
Hundreds of animal rights activists are expected to march through Cambridge on Saturday to protest against the use of animals in scientific experiments at the university, as part of World Day for Laboratory Animals. They will also demonstrate against AstraZeneca’s new headquarters in Cambridge, Cambridge News reported.
This article was written by Julia Kollewe, for theguardian.com on Friday 24th April 2015 09.38 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010