May 12, 2017 / 9:21 AM / 4 months ago

Record close for FTSE as AstraZeneca soars

People walk through the lobby of the London Stock Exchange in London, Britain August 25, 2015. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett/File photo

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s top share index set a record close on Friday, sealing its strongest week since December as pharmaceutical stock AstraZeneca (AZN.L) rose on a positive drug trial and broker upgrades buoyed individual firms.

The blue chip FTSE 100 .FTSE index finished the week 0.5 percent higher at 7,435.39 points, a record close and flirting with its record intraday levels of mid-March. The index was up 1.9 percent on the week, its biggest weekly gain since December.

The victory for centrist Emmanuel Macron in the French presidential elections spurred investors back into European stocks.

AstraZeneca jumped 9 percent after its key immunotherapy drug durvalumab was shown to reduce the risk of death from lung cancer in a trial.

The hope is that the drug, which offers an alternative to chemotherapy, will be a blockbuster treatment for AstraZeneca with sales in the billions of dollars.

“Their pacific lung cancer trial ... has been taken very well as it’s seen as being quite positive for the upcoming readouts of the MYSTIC trial, which is what really we’re waiting on from them,” Dafydd Davies, partner at Charles Hanover Investments, said, referring to another of AstraZeneca’s cancer drug trials.

“As the generic drugs have started to bite into some of their profitability, (it) is very key these new drugs that are in the pipeline do start making some significant progress, which is what we are starting to see.”

Shares in peer Shire (SHP.L) also rose 1.5 percent.

But healthcare firm Hikma (HIK.L) was among the weakest blue chip performers, down 2 percent at a five-month low and taking losses to nearly 10 percent over the past two sessions after U.S. approval for its generic drug Advair was delayed on Thursday.

Brokers J.P. Morgan and Stifel both reduced their target prices for the stock.

Telecoms companies BT (BT.L) and Vodafone (VOD.L) rose 2.7 and 2.3 percent in concert with European telecoms stocks which were boosted by a merger between United Internet (UTDI.DE) and Drillisch (DRIG.DE).

Shares in Standard Life SL.L also rose 1.9 percent after RBC raised its rating on the insurer to “outperform”.

RBC analysts said that, following the release of the prospectus for Standard Life’s merger with Aberdeen Asset Management ADN.L, they had greater conviction that the insurance business will be sold, which they expect would unlock value.

On the mid-caps, oil services provider Petrofac (PFC.L) plummeted 14 percent after the firm said Britain’s Serious Fraud Office was questioning its chief executive and chief operating officer in connection with an ongoing investigation into the Monaco-based Unaoil.

It dragged the mid-cap index .FTMC down 0.2 percent.

Editing by Tom Heneghan

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