AstraZeneca hikes earnings outlook

After fighting off a fierce takeover bid from Pfizer, Swedish-British drugmaker AstraZeneca raised its 2014 earnings outlook and posted rising second quarter sales on Thursday.

AstraZeneca hikes earnings outlook
Photo: Claus Gertsen/TT

Turnover gained 4 percent to $6.454 billion in the three months to June from a year earlier, aided by emerging markets and the United States, Astra said in a results statement.

The performance was also lifted by the inclusion of AstraZeneca's former diabetes joint venture. The group bought out partner Bristol-Myers Squibb late last year for $4.1 billion.

In addition, sales were pushed higher by delays to the launch of generic versions of Astra's best-selling heartburn pill Nexium by Indian drugmaker Ranbaxy. 

AstraZeneca added it expected 2014 revenues to be in line with the prior year. That was an upgrade from previous guidance for low-to-mid single digit percentage decline.

Earnings per share (EPS) — a key measure of company performance — was expected to fall in low double-digits this year. That marked an upgrade from the prior estimates for a percentage drop in the teens.

"We have made significant progress in the first half of the year, with visible momentum across our cardiovascular, diabetes and respiratory franchises as well as strong growth in the emerging markets," said chief
executive Pascal Soriot in the statement.

"This has driven revenue growth for the second consecutive quarter and achieved a 13-percent increase in core earnings per share in the quarter.

"The pace of execution of our strategy and the underlying performance of our teams give us confidence to raise 2014 guidance for the full year."

On a downbeat note, Astra added that net profits, or earnings after taxation, dipped by 3.3 percent to $796 million in the reporting period, hit by ongoing investment in new drug development.

The results were meanwhile published one day after AstraZeneca agreed to purchase a portfolio of respiratory drugs from Spanish pharmaceuticals firm Almirall for up to $2.1 billion.

"The business combination with Almirall will offer strategic long-term value, bringing together the two innovative portfolios to strengthen further our commitment to respiratory disease and contribute to our growth," added Soriot on Thursday.

In late May, AstraZeneca fought off a $117-billion takeover bid from US giant Pfizer, amid worries over British jobs and research capability.

There were also accusations that the tie-up was a cynical ploy by Pfizer to avoid paying tax on profits if they were sent to the United States. The group had also proposed to switch its tax base to Britain from the US.

Under British takeover rules, Pfizer must now wait six months before it can bid again for AstraZeneca.

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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.