AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine rollout is the headline-grabber, but new drug launches drove 2020 growth

AstraZeneca manufacturing employee
AstraZeneca is busy launching its COVID-19 vaccine in many countries worldwide. (AstraZeneca)

While AstraZeneca stands on the world stage with its COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the drugmaker’s suite of new drug launches propelled its 2020 financial performance, generating more than half of overall sales.

AZ’s new drugs brought in (PDF) 52% of the company’s sales last year, a big leap from 43% the prior year. The increase delivered a $3.5 billion year-over-year revenue boost. And that growth came despite COVID-19 lockdowns, which caused many patients to delay treatment or forego it entirely.

Those new launches, including cancer blockbusters Tagrisso, Imfinzi and Lynparza, were the “major contributor” in the company’s overall sales increase of 10% to $25.9 billion, the company said. In the fourth quarter of 2020, the company passed $7 billion in quarterly product sales for the first time in “many years,” AZ said.

In a note to clients after the results, ODDO BHF analysts said AZ offers “best-in-class" growth among its peers and that its 2021 guidance is “full of upside.” Alexion, which AZ recently agreed to acquire for $39 billion, is a “bonus,” they wrote.

For 2021, AstraZeneca expects its revenue to grow even more—by a low-teen percentage.

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Meanwhile, the company’s COVID-19 vaccine continues to grab worldwide attention. The company is launching the shot in Europe and the U.K., and many other countries around the world have authorized it.  

In the U.S., AZ expects results from a phase 3 trial in the coming weeks. An FDA submission and review could follow if the data are positive.

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AstraZeneca is currently producing 100 million doses of the vaccine per month and intends to double that figure by April. But variants threaten vaccine progress, and the company is testing a booster shot that could be ready later this year, executives said.