AstraZeneca's drug headache leads to profits slump

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The emptiness of AstraZeneca's drug cabinet was laid bare yesterday as a number of patent expiries – including its bestselling cholesterol-buster Crestor – saw the pharmaceutical giant miss City expectations on sales and profits, both of which fell for the seventh-consecutive quarter.

AstraZeneca's pre-tax profits slumped 24 per cent to $4bn (£3.4bn) during the first nine months of the year. News that the struggling drug maker has appointed a new finance boss – ex-GlaxoSmithKline executive Marc Dunoyer will take over from the departing Simon Lowth – could not stop its shares falling 21p to 3,309p.

Mr Dunoyer, currently AstraZeneca's head of product development, joined the company from GSK over the summer.

AstraZeneca admitted that cheaper, generic rivals on several brands including ulcer treatment Nexium and anti-psychotic Seroquel IR, as well as Crestor in Canada and Australia, had knocked $350m off its revenues in just the last three months. That was, however, a lower hit than experienced in each of the previous four quarters.Overall, sales slumped 9 per cent to $18.9bn between January and September. The negative impact of US healthcare reform also cost AstraZeneca – the hit was $199m in just the last three months.

One glimmer of good news was that the drug maker managed to grow sales in China, where other pharma giants, including AstraZeneca's domestic rival GSK, stand accused of a bribery scandal.

The company's growth in the country was "slower" at 13 per cent, it said, but that compared to GSK Chinese sales crashing by 61 per cent in the third quarter.

AstraZeneca's chief executive, Pascal Soriot, who has been in the job for just over a year, claimed he was "pleased with the progress we are making, particularly on the pipeline".

AstraZeneca has seen three regulatory filings and three drugs begin Phase III trials in recent months – but has also been hit by a string of hoped-for breakthrough drugs failing at trials this year.

Mr Soriot has presided over thousands of job cuts, particularly in sales, cutting the company's headcount by more than 11,000 over two years.