Astra Zeneca reports profits boost

Anglo Swedish pharmaceuticals firm AstraZeneca reported a first quarter profit climb of 29 percent on Thursday on the back of a "strong" performance in emerging markets and sales of key products.

Net earnings leapt to $2.78 billion in the three months to the end of March, compared with the same part of 2009, AstraZeneca said in a statement on the report.

That easily beat market expectations for net profit of $2.15 billion, according to analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires.

Turnover grew by 11 percent to $8.576 billion dollars during the reporting period, boosted by sales of key drugs like cholesterol drug Crestor, anti-psychotic drug Seroquel and asthma treatment Symbicort.

The pharmaceuticals group, which reports in dollars, was also aided by the US currency’s strength during the latest quarter.

“The first quarter results reflect continued strong market performance for key brands like Crestor, Seroquel and Symbicort,” said Chief Executive David Brennan said in the earnings release.

“We saw revenue growth in all major regions, including another strong quarter in emerging markets.”

Earlier this week, meanwhile, AstraZeneca agreed to pay a $520 million fine to settle allegations it illegally marketed Seroquel for unapproved uses.

The firm’s US division agreed to the fine for marketing Seroquel for so-called “off-label” uses not included in the drug’s approved product label, the US Justice Department said.

US authorities contended that AstraZeneca illegally marketed Seroquel for uses never approved by the Food and Drug Administration such as aggression, Alzheimer’s disease, anger management, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar maintenance, dementia, depression, mood disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and sleeplessness.

By doing so, the pharmaceutical group received government insurance payments that officials said were fraudulent.

Under the settlement terms, the federal government will receive some $301 million and various state insurance programs will get $218 million.

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Norway to send 200,000 AstraZeneca doses to Sweden and Iceland

Norway, which has suspended the use of AstraZeneca's Covid vaccine until further notice, will send 216,000 doses to Sweden and Iceland at their request, the Norwegian health ministry said Thursday.

Norway to send 200,000 AstraZeneca doses to Sweden and Iceland
Empty vials of the AstraZeneca vaccine. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

“I’m happy that the vaccines we have in stock can be put to use even if the AstraZeneca vaccine has been paused in Norway,” Health Minister Bent Høie said in a statement.

The 216,000 doses, which are currently stored in Norwegian fridges, have to be used before their expiry dates in June and July.

Sweden will receive 200,000 shots and Iceland 16,000 under the expectation they will return the favour at some point. 

“If we do resume the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, we will get the doses back as soon as we ask,” Høie said.

Like neighbouring Denmark, Norway suspended the use of the AstraZeneca jab on March 11 in order to examine rare but potentially severe side effects, including blood clots.

Among the 134,000 AstraZeneca shots administered in Norway before the suspension, five cases of severe thrombosis, including three fatal ones, had been registered among relatively young people in otherwise good health. One other person died of a brain haemorrhage.

On April 15, Norway’s government ignored a recommendation from the Institute of Public Health to drop the AstraZeneca jab for good, saying it wanted more time to decide.

READ MORE: Norway delays final decision on withdrawal of AstraZeneca vaccine 

The government has therefore set up a committee of Norwegian and international experts tasked with studying all of the risks linked to the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, which is also suspected of causing blood clots.

Both are both based on adenovirus vector technology. Denmark is the only European country to have dropped the AstraZeneca
vaccine from its vaccination campaign, and said on Tuesday it would “lend” 55,000 doses to the neighbouring German state of Schleswig-Holstein.