AZ’s new cancer drugs drive another stellar quarter


AstraZeneca has raised its sales guidance of the year once again as its trio of new cancer drugs continued to deliver strong growth in the third quarter, helped by 40% growth in China.

Product sales were up 14% to $17.32 billion in the first nine months of the year, and AZ now says it is expecting 2019 growth as a whole to be in the low- to mid-teens percentage bracket, sparking a near 4% increase in its share price.

AZ returned to growth for the first time since 2014 last year after a lengthy run of patent expiries on key products, and the latest run of financial results is topping expectations. It had previously been predicting growth in the low double-digit percentage range.

The star performer once again was EGFR inhibitor Tagrisso (osimertinib) for lung cancer, which grew 82% to $2.3bn in the nine-month period thanks in part to fast uptake in China, consolidating its position as AZ’s biggest product.

Tagrisso’s growth rate was overtaken however by PARP inhibitor Lynparza (olaparib) for ovarian and breast cancer, up 93% to $847 million, and in particular AZ’s checkpoint inhibitor Imfinzi (durvalumab) which rocketed 182$ to top $1 billion in the first nine months.

The performance of Lynparza and Imfinzi means AZ is on course to have five of its newer growth medicines making blockbuster sales by the end of 2019, with the cancer trio joining cardiovascular drug Brilinta (ticagrelor) and diabetes therapy Farxiga/Forxiga (dapagliflozin) in that category.

Brilinta grew 22% to $1.15 billion, buoyed by rising sales in emerging markets, while Farxiga was up 13% to $1.12 billion, even before the impact of new data added to its label showing it can improve cardiovascular outcomes, reduce kidney complications and prevent hospitalisation for heart failure in type 2 diabetes patients.

The last few months have also seen positive readouts for Lynparza in prostate cancer and a broader ovarian cancer population, Tagrisso and Imfinzi in non-small cell lung cancer, and Farxiga in diabetic and non-diabetic heart failure, which could add further label expansions and lend further momentum to their sales growth.

In fact, AZ’s hefty investment in its late-stage pipeline was responsible for the only blip in the third-quarter results, namely a 14% dip in third-quarter pretax profits to $409 million.

“With AZ growing at pace, our sales guidance has been upgraded for the second consecutive quarter,” commented Soriot.

“Another strong performance from our new medicines accompanied impressive results in our key markets, most notably in China, the US and Japan,” he added. “The performance reinforces our confidence in delivering sustainable earnings growth.”