AstraZeneca exceeds expectations with record $1bn profits

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The Independent Online

AstraZeneca reported record first-quarter profits yesterday, raising hopes that the pharmaceuticals group will be in good shape to weather what may be stormy times ahead.

The Anglo-Swedish combine notched up pre-tax profits of $1.12bn versus $971m during the same period a year ago, exceeding most analysts' expectations. It is the first time quarterly profits have topped $1bn.

"We're off to a good start for the year," Jon Symonds, chief financial officer, said, adding AstraZeneca should have no problem meeting the goals of double-digit sales and profit growth it had promised investors.

First-quarter sales at the group level were $4.6bn versus $4.3bn, lifted by yet another strong performance of its blockbuster ulcer drug Losec, and by a surprising recovery in its agrochemicals division.

Despite the good results, AstraZeneca shares ended the day 69p down at 2,603p, in line with the general market sell-down.

The main question mark over AstraZeneca is how it will cope with losing patent protection on Losec, the world's top-selling prescription drug, which brought in $1.59bn in sales during the first quarter. The company did, however, stress that it had a strong enough pipeline to compensate for any loss in Losec sales, with several potential blockbusters.

AstraZeneca added it was on track to complete the proposed merger of its agrochemicals unit with that of Swiss health-care company Novartis by the second half of the year.

AstraZeneca shares fell 69p yesterday, finishing at 2,603The company's share price moved up on the news, losing 69p to 2,603p