Generic rivals ratchet up pressure on Astra

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The Independent Online

Shares in AstraZeneca, the UK's second largest pharmaceutical group, came under pressure yesterday as Cobalt Pharmaceuticals, a Canadian group, applied to produce a generic version of Crestor, its top selling anti-cholesterol drug.

AstraZeneca said that Cobalt has applied to the US Federal Drug Administration for permission to begin manufacturing a generic version of Crestor, a compound of rosuvastatin calcium. Analysts expect Astra to put up a robust defence of its patent but, although the chances of any competition are slim in the short term, the market is already concerned about generic competition for Astra's four blockbusters.

In a statement, AstraZeneca said it has "full confidence in its intellectual property". Astra has 45 days to file a patent infringement lawsuit against Cobalt.

The news on Crestor overshadowed third-quarter results that were largely in line with City expectations. Sales grew by 10 per cent in the quarter to $7.15bn (£3.4bn), with a particularly strong contribution from the schizophrenia treatment Seroquel, up 24 per cent in comparison to the same period of 2006 to $1.06bn. Earnings per share fell by 13 per cent to $0.91, mainly as a result of a $146m restructuring charge.

However, sales of the Crestor asthma treatment Symbicort and gastric acid medication Nexium all came in marginally below estimates. Crestor managed quarterly sales of $691m against consensus forecasts of $718m, while Symbicort reported $371m of sales compared to the $379m analysts had forecast. Nexium came under pricing pressure and reported sales of $1.29bn, well under the $1.32bn analysts expected.

Meanwhile, Shire, the UK's third-largest drugs group, also released its third-quarter results. It has successfully launched its hyperactivity treatment Vyvanse, developed by New Rover Pharmaceuticals, which Shire acquired in March. The company reported a 35 per cent jump in quarterly revenue to $608m, well ahead of City forecasts.