AstraZeneca Profit Drops on Decline in Blockbuster-Drug Revenue -- Update

By Denise Roland Features Dow Jones Newswires

(Updates with background and detail throughout.)

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AstraZeneca PLC (AZN), battling declining sales of its blockbuster cholesterol pill, posted lower revenue and profit in the first quarter of the year.

Cambridge, England-based AstraZeneca is furiously working to launch a string of new drugs to help return the company to growth as a series of patent expirations erodes sales for its stalwart drugs, such as cholesterol-lowering pill Crestor.

Sales from AstraZeneca's "growth platforms"--a collection of new drugs and faster-growing geographic regions--increased 4% to $3.57 billion from a year earlier.

But that was eclipsed by a sharp decline in sales of Crestor, which started facing competition from low-cost competitors last year. Crestor sales fell 45% to $631 million.

Overall, revenue fell 12% to $5.41 billion, and net profit slid 17% to $537 million.

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Still, AstraZeneca posted better-than-expected core operating profit, a measure that strips out one time gains and impairments, due in large part to a rise in one-off proceeds from deals struck to offload drugs that fall outside its key therapy areas.

Core operating profit rose 5% to $1.67 billion, though stripping out the effect of the strong dollar, it fell 2%. Analysts expected core operating profit of $1.4 billion.

Chief Executive Pascal Soriot has long indicated that 2017 would mark the final of several years of flat or falling sales at AstraZeneca, which now faces no more major patent expirations until the early 2020s. The company expects revenue to decline by a low-to-mid single digit percentage this year.

He has vowed that AstraZeneca's recently-launched drugs, and several more in late-stage testing, will nearly double yearly revenue--which was $23 billion in 2016--to $45 billion by 2023. That promise formed a key part of his defense against an ultimately failed takeover bid by Pfizer Inc.

The company this year awaits some key clinical trial results, including those for a combination of two cancer immunotherapy drugs that it hopes will prove more effective at fighting lung cancer than competing single-drug approaches. If successful, AstraZeneca would be entering an already-competitive field that includes drugs from Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Merck & Co. and Roche Holding AG.

Write to Denise Roland at denise.roland@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 27, 2017 04:09 ET (08:09 GMT)