Cancer drug sales help AstraZeneca beat forecasts

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AstraZeneca reported higher than expected annual revenue due to strong sales for its cancer drugs, as the FTSE 100 company forecast double-digit sales growth in 2024.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker on Thursday reported revenue of $45.8bn for 2023, up 15 per cent at constant exchange rates and excluding Covid-19 medicines. The result was slightly ahead of analysts’ expectations and driven by oncology drugs, which made up more than a third of sales.

AstraZeneca’s chief executive Pascal Soriot forecast that the company would generate revenue growth in low double-digits to low teens in 2024. “Our differentiated and growing portfolio of approved medicines, global reach and rich R&D pipeline give us confidence that we will continue to deliver industry-leading growth,” he said.

The business brought four new drugs to market in 2024, as part of plans to launch 15 new drugs by 2030, and a dozen drugs reached blockbuster status, with more than $1bn in sales in 2023.

The business has “the broadest and deepest pipeline of any [European] pharma company” covered by analysts at Barclays.

Despite revenue beating forecasts, core operating profits came in slightly below expectations and shares fell about 2 per cent in morning trading. They have been down by about 5 per cent since the start of the year, after the company disappointed investors in July with weaker than anticipated results for datopotamab deruxtecan, a much-awaited cancer drug developed with Japanese partner Daiichi Sankyo.

The medication is one of a new generation of more targeted oncology treatments developed by AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo that have fewer side effects for patients. Enhertu, the first drug from the partnership, brought in $261mn in 2023 and is under regulatory review for a series of different cancer treatments.

AstraZeneca has a portfolio of well-established cancer drugs including lung cancer medicine Tagrisso, which raked in more than $5bn last year. It has also made a bet on the new generation of cancer drugs known as antibody-drug conjugates, such as Enhertu.

Oncology sales grew 20 per cent at constant exchange rates, helping offset tumbling revenue from the company’s Covid medicines. AstraZeneca’s jab developed with Oxford university was widely used across the world, but sales fell more than 99 per cent to just $12mn in 2023.

In November, the company entered the race to develop an obesity drug, signing a licensing agreement with Chinese company Eccogene to develop an oral obesity pill, in contrast to Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk’s injectable weight-loss drugs already on the market.

Emily Field, an analyst at Barclays, said: “Of course shares could open down on the weak” after AstraZeneca issued slightly lower earnings per share than expected for 2023. However, she added that she was encouraged by the drugmaker’s “strong forward-looking guidance and pipeline”.

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