AstraZeneca sales climb 11% in Q4 led by growth in oncology products

Headline results for the fourth quarter:

  • Product sales: $7 billion, up 12%
  • Revenue: $7.4 billion, up 11%
  • Profit: $1 billion, versus $277 million in the prior year

Note: All changes are versus the prior-year period unless otherwise stated

What the company said:

CEO Pascal Soriot stated that AstraZeneca's performance last year "marked a significant step forward for [the company]. Despite the significant impact from the pandemic, we delivered double-digit revenue growth to leverage improved profitability and cash generation." AstraZeneca noted that 52% of its total revenues in 2020 came from new medicines, up from 43% in 2019, with oncology posting growth of 23% to $11.5 billion for the year.

Soriot also highlighted additional investment in new medicines, bolstering growth in the oncology and biopharmaceuticals therapy areas. "Tagrisso's future was enhanced with its first regulatory approval in early, potentially-curable lung cancer and further national reimbursement in China in advanced disease," the CEO said, noting that "Farxiga again expanded its potential beyond diabetes, while tezepelumab promised real hope for patients suffering from severe asthma."

AstraZeneca said total revenues for the year also included $2 million in product sales from its COVID-19 vaccine AZD1222, adding that it intends to report the vaccine's sales performance separately starting the next quarter.

Other results:

  • Oncology product sales $2.9 billion, up 28%
    • $1.2 billion, up 31%, boosted by 11% growth in China, following admission to the country's National Reimbursement Drug List (NRDL), while sales in Europe were driven by use for the first-line treatment of EGFR-mutated non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
    • Imfinzi: $555 million, up 31%, with growth predominantly coming from the treatment of unresectable Stage III NSCLC
    • Lynparza: $496 million, up 42%, with "strong performance" geographically spread, as US launches in prostate cancer and first-line HRD+ ovarian cancer "started to take effect"
    • Calquence: $182 million, compared with $56 million in the year-ago period, with the "overwhelming majority" of revenues generated in the US
    • Faslodex: $130 million, down 21%, with US sales declining after the launch in 2019 of multiple generic versions
    • Iressa: $67 million, down 16%, with sales in China hit by the drug's inclusion in the country's volume-based procurement (VBP) programme and subsequent price reduction
  • Cardiovascular, renal and metabolic disease product sales: $1.8 billion, up 3%
    • Farxiga: $586 million, up 40%, driven by sales in Europe reflecting growth in the SGLT2 class, as well as in emerging markets, despite inclusion on China's NRDL
    • Brilinta: $363 million, down 15%, with global demand adversely impacted by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and also driven by a VBP-related mandatory price reduction in China
    • Crestor: $298 million, up 1%, impacted by the ongoing effects of its inclusion in China's VBP programme
  • Respiratory and immunology product sales: $1.5 billion, down 1%
    • Symbicort: $680 million, down 5%, with volume growth seen in major European countries offset by generic competition in Japan
    • Pulmicort: $368 million, down 11%, in addition to the effects of COVID-19, performance in China was impacted by a reduction in the number of paediatric patients attending outpatient nebulisation rooms
    • Fasenra: $283 million, up 38%, with increased demand, despite the impact of COVID-19 on the level of new-patient starts in several countries
  • Emerging market sales: $2.2 billion, up 7%, with sales in China gaining 15% during the quarter to $1.4 billion
  • Collaboration revenue: $399 million, down 4%
  • Full-year sales: $26.6 billion, up 9%
  • Full-year profit $3.1 billion, up from $1.2 billion the year before

Looking ahead:

AstraZeneca said full-year sales in 2021 are expected to increase by a low-teens percentage, in constant currencies, accompanied by faster growth in core earnings ranging from $4.75 to $5 per share. The guidance does not take into account potential sales of its COVID-19 vaccine, and also excludes the pending $39-billion takeover of Alexion Pharmaceuticals, which is expected to close in the third quarter.

What analysts said:

Sebastian Skeet of Third Bridge remarked "the company is arguably the poster child for big pharma turnarounds, with CEO Pascal Soriot rebuilding the pipeline and establishing the necessary growth drivers."

Pipeline updates:

AstraZeneca discontinued some oncology pipeline candidates since the last quarter, citing safety and efficacy reasons. Specifically, it is pulling the oral selective oestrogen receptor degrader AZD9496, which was being evaluated in oestrogen receptor-positive breast cancer. Further, the company has discontinued development of the A2aR inhibitor imaradenant, also known as AZD4635, alone and in combination with the anti-CD73 antibody oleclumab, as a potential treatment for patients with prostate cancer. However, Phase II testing of imaradenant in combination with Imfinzi plus chemotherapy for use in prostate cancer is ongoing. The company is also ending AZD5153, a BRD4 inhibitor with a bivalent mechanism of action that was in testing for solid tumours and haematological malignancies.

In addition, AstraZeneca disclosed that it has removed AZD5634, an inhaled ENaC inhibitor for cystic fibrosis, from its pipeline due to safety and efficacy reasons, while AZD6615, an orally administered small-molecule drug to treat dyslipidaemias, was dropped for strategic reasons. Further, the company scrapped development of both abediterol and velsecorat in asthma/chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, citing strategic reasons.

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