AstraZeneca sales surge as new medicine successes outweigh Covid cancellation of hospital visits

Jim ArmitageThu, 11 February 2021, 8:18 am

 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

AstraZenecadeveloper of the Oxford Covid vaccine, today said the pandemic had hit sales of an array of its medicines, giving the lie to claims from some in the EU that it had been profiteering from the crisis.During the battle with the EU over supplies of its vaccine after Europe’s three-month delay in placing orders, it was alleged that AstraZeneca was prioritising UK sales because it would make more profit.

The claim was incendiary because the company has always pledged that it will offer the medicine at cost price, on a not-for-profit basis.

Today, in its financial figures for the year, it said Covid had reduced sales of other medicines as people had stayed away from visits to clinics and hospitals for everyday treatments and elective surgery.

The biggest impacts were to sales of asthma inhaler Pulmicort, normally given in nebuliser centres and during surgery, and heart attack treatment Brilinta, as fewer hospital visits were made for coronary illnesses.

Astra’s Covid treatment, technically called C19VAZ, has been authorised for the UK, Europe, India, Argentina, Mexico and Morocco. It is now in phase III trials of another treatment described as an antibody combination therapy aimed at preventing and treating the illness.

Despite the Covid disruption of some treatments, sales overall surged in the past financial year, with new medicines in the forefront of the growth.

Watch: Coronavirus cases falling across all four UK nations 0:00 2:33   COVID-19: Coronavirus cases falling across all four UK nations

Full year revenues jumped 9% to $26.6 billion with new medicine revenues up 33% to $13.9 billion. Globally, new treatments made up 52% of total revenue, against 43% the previous year.

Chief executive Pascal Soriot set out a plan to transform Astra’s pipeline of new treatments in 2010 to improve success rates of trials.

Last year, as part of that, he struck a deal to buy US biotech firm Alexion for $39 billion to increase its range of rare disease and immunology treatments.

Today he said: “Despite the significant impact from the pandemic, we delivered double-digit revenue growth to leverage improved profitability and cash generation.

“The consistent achievements in the pipeline, the accelerating performance of our business and the progress of the Covid-19 vaccine demonstrated what we can achieve, while the proposed acquisition of Alexion is intended to accelerate our scientific and commercial evolution even further.”

Pre-tax profit came in at $3.14 billion against $1.22 billion a year earlier, largely due to the sales increase. Research and development spending fell from $6.1 billion to $6 billion. Its tax bill increased to $772 million from $321 million before.