AstraZeneca forecasts higher 2022 sales and lifts annual dividend

AstraZeneca forecast higher 2022 sales and lifted its annual dividend for the first time in a decade after beating fourth-quarter profit expectations, but warned the boost from its Covid-19 products would decline.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker made almost $4bn (£2.9bn) from its Vaxzevria Covid jab last year, including more than $1bn from Europe and $2.3bn from emerging markets. The jab has not yet been approved by US regulators.

AstraZeneca’s total revenues increased by 41% to $37.4bn last year. In the final quarter, sales rose 62% to $12bn.

Despite the jump in sales, the drugmaker made a loss before tax of $265m (£195m), compared with a profit of $3.9bn the year before, after spending more on product launches, research & development and the acquisition of the rare diseases specialist Alexion. Its R&D spend rose by 62% to $9.7bn.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine sales pale in comparison with Pfizer’s near $37bn (£27.2bn) take from its Covid-19 jab last year, which made it one of the most lucrative products in history and led campaigners to accuse the US drugmaker of “pandemic profiteering”.

AstraZeneca’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot, said in November that the drugmaker would move away from its not-for-profit pricing for the vaccine, shifting into “profitable mode” in new contracts.

He said the company would still offer affordable and tiered pricing to lower-income countries and that the vaccine, developed with Oxford University, would not become “a huge profit earner”.

The company said sales from the vaccine would decline this year, partially offset by growth in sales from its new Covid-19 drug, Evusheld.

It received emergency use authorisation in the US in early December and is the only antibody therapy approved in the US to prevent Covid-19 symptoms before exposure to the virus. A trial found that Evusheld reduced the risk of developing symptomatic Covid by 77% compared with a placebo.

The focus this year will be on AstraZeneca’s $39bn purchase of Alexion, its largest ever deal completed in mid-July. Analysts say it should underpin future growth, along with recent drugs pipeline successes. Rare diseases medicines contributed $3.1bn of revenues last year.

Soriot said: “The positive news from our pipeline, including approvals for Evusheld and Tezspire, supports the outlook for 2022. This, along with the transformative acquisition of Alexion, means that we are confident in our long-term growth and profitability.”

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