February 14, 2019 / 7:36 AM / 5 months ago

New cancer drugs help upbeat AstraZeneca beat forecasts

(Reuters) - AstraZeneca forecast a second straight year of sales growth on Thursday, driven by cancer medicines and other new drugs as the British drugmaker recovers from losing major patents.

FILE PHOTO - The logo of AstraZeneca is seen on medication packages in a pharmacy in London April 28, 2014. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/File Photo

AstraZeneca’s push to turn around a slump in sales rides in large part on cancer treatments Imfinzi and Lynparza, as it looks to compete with Merck & Co’s blockbuster Keytruda.

The drugmaker’s fourth quarter earnings showed oncology drug sales rose 61 percent year-on-year to $1.78 billion, while sales of all AstraZeneca products in China, which have more than doubled since 2012, also rose 22 percent to $948 million.

AstraZeneca has suffered the industry’s biggest loss of drug patents since 2012, wiping out more than half of its sales, but analysts now believe it is poised for one of the sector’s fastest growth rates in the coming years.

Shares in AstraZeneca rose 2.7 percent to 5,875 pence in early trade as analysts welcomed the earnings.

“The Astra story is very much one of transition from pipeline to commercial execution, and so 2018 was the first year back to product sales growth and they have delivered on that,” Tara Raveendran, a healthcare analyst at Shore Capital, said.

The company was also the latest big drug producer to say that it had made extensive preparations for Brexit, adding it assumed that Britain’s departure from the European Union would be “orderly” even if it leaves without a deal with Brussels.

The highly regulated drugs sector is seen as one of the most vulnerable to a “no-deal” outcome due to its pan-European supply chains and need for regulatory oversight.

“2019 will prove difficult, with Brexit quickly approaching and the threat of a widening skills gap for industry,” Julie Palmer, a partner at restructuring consultants Begbies Traynor said.

She added, however that if the company can continue the success of its latest drugs then it will likely avoid any major impact.

Overall product sales in the three months ended Dec. 31 rose 8 percent to $5.77 billion at constant currency, helping return AstraZeneca to annual sales growth for the first time since 2014.

Analysts had forecast product sales of $5.66 billion, according to a company provided consensus.

The drugmaker said it expects a high single-digit percentage rise in product sales in 2019 and core earnings of $3.50 to $3.70 per share.

Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka and Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru; editing by Patrick Graham and Alexander Smith

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