The drugs don’t hurt at AstraZeneca

The pharmaceutical sector has remained stronger than most other areas of business in the current economic downturn. And drugs maker AstraZeneca seems to be no exception.

The Anglo-Swedish company, whose annual results are expected on Thursday, is confident it will meet year-end targets. In its annual business review in December, AstraZeneca said it was counting an annual sales growth of 15% to $2.7bn (£1.9bn).

Jonathan Symonds, chief financial officer, will look particularly at the performance of AstraZeneca’s key products, which include the breast cancer therapy Arimidex, Seroquel, the anti-schizophrenia treatment, and heartburn drug Nexium, and have already surpassed targets.

According to the company, its product portfolio addresses 60% of the pharmaceutical market, a segment which is expected to be worth £203bn by 2005.

The drug-maker says it is number one in Europe for cancer and gastrointestinal treatment and second in respiratory medicine.

Symonds will also be interested in the progress of products that are in the pipeline. These include Crestor, a cholesterol reduction drug due to be launch in the second quarter of 2002.

The company announced that Arimidex was granted fast-track designation by the US food and drug administration. This designation means data can be submitted on a ‘rolling submission’ basis and the review of documents was expedited.

Recently, AstraZeneca signed a £12m deal with SkyePharma to develop the next generation of metered dose inhaler for its Pulmicort asthma drug.

In the City, brokers have been bullish about the company and have recently upgraded it.

However, overseas the company has some worries. Last week the FDA warned AstraZeneca to stop running its advertisement for its breast cancer drug Nolvadex, saying it was misleading.

It is also facing an ongoing court case over Prilosec (Losec in the UK), the world’s top selling therapy for heartburn and ulcers.

AstraZeneca lost its patent protection of one of the active ingredients of the drug in October, but has taken generic drugmakers to court over some of the other components.

In 2000, AstraZeneca made $6.3m from the drug, about 40% of its sales figures but US.

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