AstraZeneca is one of the world's leading pharmaceutical manufacturers, and the second-largest British company by revenues in that sector after GlaxoSmithKline. However a series of smart bets on prescription pharmaceuticals since 2019 have elevated it above GSK by market valuation. It has no exposure to over-the-counter healthcare, but manages a sizeable portfolio of prescription products, including nine $1bn-plus blockbusters. It is especially strong in oncology, respiratory and cardiovascular products. In 2007, the group acquired US biotechnology developer MedImmune. However AstraZeneca's drugs pipeline was weakened considerably in the early 2000s by a series of patent expiries and the failure of several planned products. It also came under intense scrutiny from US regulators over unauthorised marketing of key drug Seroquel, and suffered the expiry of patents on several more of its top-selling drugs between 2014 and 2016. In 2014, AstraZeneca successfully fought off a takeover proposal from rival Pfizer. Instead it began pressing ahead with a series of bolt-on acquisitions of its own from rival developers such as Almirall, Actavis and Takeda. These have gradually strengthened its product pipeline, even if the benefits from this strategy only just began to be felt during 2018. Revenues for 2019 were $24.4bn with net income of $1.2bn, representing the first full year of consistent growth since 2010. AstraZeneca's top-seller in 2019 was oncology treatment Tagrisso, with sales of $3.2bn. Its sizeable collection of supporting cancer drugs include two other blockbusters, Imfinzi ($1.2bn) and Lynparza ($1.2bn) and past giants including Faslodex and Zoladex. Respiratory is another significant sector for AstraZeneca with asthma drugs Symbicort ($2.5bn) and Pulmicort ($1.5bn). Top cardiovascular and diabetes treatments include Brilinta ($1.6bn), Farxiga ($1.5bn) and cholesterol treatment Crestor, down from its former high of $6.6bn but still in the big league at $1.3bn. Another key product is gastrointestinal drug Nexium, still generating sales of almost $1.5bn in 2019 despite its patent expiry. A major breakthrough in 2020 was the partnership with Oxford University to develop a vaccine against Covid-19. This was approved for use in the UK in December the same year, and subsequently in other global markets. It was the second such vaccine to come to market after Pfizer/BioNTech's. However the product - belatedly named Vaxzevria in March 2021 - has been dogged by controversy. Despite widespread endorsement by health regulators, take-up in many countries, especially in mainland Europe, has been hampered by a series of reports of serious side-effects in a handful of patients. Pascal Soriot is CEO of AstraZeneca.
Capsule checked 29th May 2020
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Historical profile information for AstraZeneca
Adbrands Update 27th Apr 2021: The long-simmering war of words between AstraZeneca and the European Commission now threatens to spill over into the law courts. For several months, France and some other major economies in mainland Europe briefed against the British company's Covid vaccine on largely unproven health fears, causing many doses to go unclaimed by their citizens. Those fears were later dismissed by health regulators and Europe now plans to take the pharma group to court, alleging short supply of the number of doses agreed. AstraZeneca denies those claims but acknowledges technical challenges in production. "AstraZeneca has fully complied with the Advance Purchase Agreement with the European Commission and will strongly defend itself in court," it said in a statement. "We believe any litigation is without merit and we welcome this opportunity to resolve this dispute as soon as possible."
Adbrands Daily Update 14th Dec 2020: AstraZeneca agreed to acquire US drug developer Alexion Pharmaceuticals for $39bn, its biggest acquisition for several years. Instead it has tended to bolt on individual products rather than whole companies. However, the new deal would deliver an important presence in rare diseases and diversify AstraZeneca beyond its main field of oncology. Alexion's lead product is Soliris, a treatment for a rare blood disorder that is also one of the world's most expensive drugs at a cost of around $600,000 a year per patient. Total sales for 2020 are expected to be over $4bn. Alexion has also begun marketing a follow-up drug, Ultomiris, that costs around $450,000 a year. That drug is also expected to reach blockbuster status for 2020.
Adbrands Daily Update 27th Jul 2020: AstraZeneca scored another victory with investors by inking a substantial deal with Daiichi Sankyo to jointly develop and market a potential treatment discovered by the Japanese company for breast and lung cancer. The two pharma groups are already partners on another cancer drug, Enhertu. AstraZeneca has agreed to pay Daiichi up to $6bn in a series of staggered payments depending on regulatory approvals and eventual sales.
Adbrands Daily Update 9th Jun 2020: AstraZeneca's partnership with Oxford University is regarded as one of the most promising programmes to develop a vaccine against Covid-19. In deals with manufacturing partners, including two backed by Bill Gates, the pharma group has also established capacity to produce two billion doses of any successful product over two years. That caused the company's share price to soar to record highs, making it for a while Britain's most valuable company. Yet investors now fear that AstraZeneca's CEO Pascal Soriot may have overplayed his hand. Reports have emerged of a merger approach last month to US rival Gilead Sciences, whose antiviral drug Remdesivir is the leading approved treatment so far for Covid infections. Any such deal, worth somewhere in the region of $240bn, would be the biggest ever in the pharma sector. Gilead has said repeatedly that it would not be interested in sale or merger, so investors are questioning Soriot's motivation. The reports have already dented some of AstraZeneca's stock gains. Further negative responses from investors prompted AstraZeneca to abandon its approach to Gilead soon afterwards.
Adbrands Daily Update 1st Apr 2018: AstraZeneca agreed to pay up to $6.9bn for international rights to a new cancer drug being developed by Japanese company Daichii-Sankyo. The treatment, currently known as DS-8201, targets a range of different hard-to-treat cancers. It is due to be submitted for regulatory approval later this year. The companies forecast target annual sales of $3bn a year.
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