AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot guarded over potential Pfizer bid

The boss of AstraZeneca today refused to be drawn on whether the pharmaceuticals giant will be the target of a renewed takeover bid from US rival Pfizer.

The maker of Viagra recently approached Britain’s No. 2  drug maker with a bid worth around £60 billion and there have been widespread hopes it could return with a higher offer.

But Astra’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot, remained tight-lipped on the speculation, which has seen his firm’s stock-market valuation shoot up by more than £4 billion.

“We have a firm policy on not commenting on things like this and that has not changed,” he said. “We prefer to talk about things we are doing to grow the business.”

But Soriot did highlight success in new cancer drugs, taken to late-stage clinical trials, including treatments for lung cancer and ovarian cancer, which are seen as a major attraction for Pfizer.

The US giant is struggling with a declining pipeline as blockbuster medicines, including cholesterol-buster Lipitor, once the world’s top-selling drug, face patent expiries.Astra, too, is facing that patent cliff: last year sales slumped 8%.

However, today it announced that sales in the three months to March were flat at $6.42 billion (£5.28 billion) as emerging-market success and the purchase of a string of diabetes drugs were countered by falling sales of blockbuster drugs facing generic competition for the first time.

These and other patent expiries mean Astra repeated its warning that 2014’s sales are likely to be lower than last year’s by a “low-to-mid single digit”.

But Astra highlighted its strength in emerging markets in the first quarter, where revenues rose 11%.

Shares in the company today rose 4.1% to 4206.5p, meaning that it has gained more than 12% since news of the Pfizer approach first emerged  last weekend.

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