Profits surge for AstraZeneca

(AFP) Troubled Anglo-Swedish drugs giant AstraZeneca revealed on Thursday a record 37-percent increase in pre-tax profits for the first quarter of 2005, boosted by strong sales growth and cost cutting.

Pre-tax profits rose to 1.486 billion dollars for the three months to March, compared with 1.084 billion dollars for the same period the previous year, AstraZeneca said.

“These record profits derive from a strong sales performance, especially for our key growth products,” said chief executive Tom McKillop.

And it included “ongoing productivity improvements in research and development” and sales and general costs, he added.

“This excellent start to the year has set us on track to deliver our financial targets for the year.”

Sales for the period totalled 5.74 billion dollars, a rise of 13 percent compared with the same quarter in 2004.

That beat analysts’ consensus forecasts of 5.55 billion dollars. Meanwhile, operating profit increased by 38 percent to 1.45 billion dollars, overshooting analysts’ predictions of 1.31 billion.

AstraZeneca is striving to overcome a series of damaging setbacks, including the provisional rejection by US regulators of its blood-thinning drug Exanta and an admission that its Iressa cancer treatment was unable to prolong the life of patients significantly.

Promotion of Iressa has been suspended by AstraZeneca while the US Food and Drug Administration completes its assessment.