November 5, 2015 / 7:26 AM / 4 years ago

AstraZeneca lifts 2015 forecasts despite tough times

LONDON (Reuters) - AstraZeneca lifted its full-year forecast for revenue and earnings on Thursday as Chief Executive Pascal Soriot said the group was showing resilience, despite eroding sales of some of its top-selling medicines.

A sign is seen at an AstraZeneca site in Macclesfield, central England May 19, 2014. REUTERS/Phil Noble

Shares in the drugmaker rose 4 percent, although they are still more than a fifth below the price offered by Pfizer during a failed $118 billion takeover attempt last year.

The company faces mounting generic competition to its heartburn drug Nexium, sales of which fell somewhat less than expected in the quarter. It will also lose U.S. exclusivity on cholesterol drug Crestor next year.

“2016 will be a pivotal year in our strategic journey,” Soriot said, as he announced third-quarter results broadly in line with analyst expectations.

“Looking ahead, however, the continued performance of our growth platforms and upcoming launches will combine with our increasing focus on costs and cash generation to help offset short-term headwinds and return AstraZeneca to sustainable growth.”

Jefferies analysts said AstraZeneca held “the promise of a rapidly building tempo” of pivotal new drug data and potential approvals over the next 12 months.

Hit by a stronger dollar and supply problems with flu vaccine FluMist, quarterly revenue in dollar terms fell 10 percent to $5.95 billion, generating core earnings per share (EPS), which exclude certain items, down 2 percent at $1.03 cents.

But revenue at constant exchange rates in the year to date is stable and EPS up 2 percent, helped by tight control on costs and income from disposals of certain products.

As a result, the group now expects 2015 revenue at constant currencies to be in line with 2014, after previously predicting a low single-digit percent decline, while core EPS is expected to show a mid to high single-digit percent increase, from a low single-digit percent increase seen previously.

Industry analysts had on average forecast quarterly sales of $5.97 billion and earnings of $1.03 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters.

The company is banking on a raft of new drugs now in development to revive its fortunes.

It has bet heavily on cancer medicine, where it is vying with Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck and Roche in the hot area of immuno-oncology.

Clinical data on its immune system-boosting drug durvalumab in lung cancer is due by the end of the year, although the chances of an accelerated approval based on these results have diminished after the launch of competitors. [L8N1303TQ]

It also has a promising new lung cancer pill called AZD9291 that could win U.S. approval in the first half of 2016.

Editing by Mark Potter and Louise Heavens

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