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AstraZeneca 2Q Profit Up 22 Pct

From Associated Press (July 29, 2010)

LONDON -- AstraZeneca PLC doubled its share buyback program on Thursday after posting strong second quarter results and revealing that a key new drug -- its blood thinner Brilinta -- has been given a thumbs up by an advisory committee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The Anglo-Swedish drug maker also raised its full-year earnings forecast after reporting a net profit of $2.1 billion for the three months to June 30, compared with a $1.72 billion profit in the same period a year ago.

Revenue rose 2.8 percent to $8.18 billion, from $7.96 billion, as strong sales in emerging markets outweighed declining revenue in the United States, where it faces tough generic competition for its products.

That competition is expected to intensify in the second half of the year as key products come off patent and AstraZeneca loses unexpected factors that boosted its 2009 earnings, like the swine flu outbreak.

But a lack so far of generic copies of its ulcer drug Nexium in Europe and a court win last month upholding its U.S. patent on cholesterol drug Crestor has given the company some renewed confidence.

It lifted its earnings per share forecast for the fourth time, to $6.35-$6.65 per share from the $6.05-$6.35 per share it predicted when it announced first quarter earnings in April. It also doubled its share buyback program to $2 billion.

"Our second quarter performance reflects continued strong growth in our emerging markets and good performance for key brands Crestor, Seroquel and Symbicort," Chief Executive Officer David Brennan said.

The company reported a 23 percent increase in sales of Crestor to $1.43 billion; a 20 percent gain for the asthma drug Symbicort to $664 million, and an 8 percent rise for the anti-psychotic drug Seroquel to $1.35 billion.

The company’s shares were bid up after the financial update, rising 4.2 percent to 3,337 pence in morning trade on the London Stock Exchange.

Panmure Gordon analysts said the earnings were better than anticipated, and even though a tougher second half is expected, "we remain conviction buyers as we expect significant upgrades to consensus."

However, Collins Stewart analyst Emmanual Papadakis warned that the second quarter represented the last pre-key patent expiry set of results, with Brilinta’s recommendation the last of the significant expected positive newsflow.

"We would advise taking profits post a very strong run that is likely to start reversing H2 10," Papadakis said in a note.

FDA advisory committee members voted 7 to 1 to recommend the approval of Brilinta in patients with acute coronary syndrome, or blocked arteries. The FDA usually follows the advice of its advisory committee, which made the finding despite revelations earlier this week that study results in the U.S. did not match the positive reports from abroad.

An international, 18,000-patient study conducted by AstraZeneca showed that patients taking Brilinta versus Plavix were less likely to experience various heart-related problems, including heart attack and stroke. But U.S. patients studied were more likely to report heart problems while taking Brilinta.

AstraZeneca needs Brilinta to help fill a gap in its drugs pipeline as revenue from both Seroquel and Nexium -- which had flat sales of $1.26 billion in the quarter -- are hurt by generic competition.

The blood thinner market is currently dominated by Sanofi-Aventis SA and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s blockbuster drug Plavix. With global sales of $9.1 billion in 2009, Plavix was the world’s second-best selling drug behind Pfizer Inc.’s cholesterol drug Lipitor.

Eli Lilly & Co. launched its own drug, Effient, last summer, but it has faced an uphill climb with sales of $22.9 million in the last quarter.


Posted: July 2010