AstraZeneca's anti-Pfizer growth promises? At least one big investor is buying

When Pfizer ($PFE) and Merck KGaA announced their big immuno-oncology deal Monday, market watchers immediately started extrapolating. The tie-up means Pfizer won't come back for another try at AstraZeneca ($AZN), some say. But others figure that there's still a solid chance of Pfizer, round two.

AstraZeneca itself is among them, and the U.K.-based drugmaker is once again touting its long-term prospects for any and all investors who might be listening. Return to growth by 2017, $45 billion in sales by 2023, several new drug filings next year--the subtext is clearly a repeat of May's presentation in defense against Pfizer's May offer.

Neil Woodford--Courtesy of Invesco

So is the high-profile British investor Neil Woodford. As AstraZeneca convened its annual investor meeting Tuesday, Woodford set the odds of a Pfizer return at 50-50. But that doesn't mean he's in favor. For one thing, Pfizer probably can't afford to pay enough to outweigh the value of AZ's pipeline over the long term, he figures.

Plus, Big Pharma has a terrible record when it comes to megamergers, Woodford says, echoing comments from not only AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot but also analysts who've watched big M&A deals stall R&D and fail to deliver on market value. Pfizer itself, Woodford points out, is the product of one big merger after another, with not much to show in market cap for the billions paid for those buyouts.

How much value can AstraZeneca create on its own? That $45 billion sales goal is an enormous increase over 2013's $27 billion, and 2014's sales are expected to grow only a bit. But big leaps are in store in oncology, the company said Tuesday, adding that field to its previously tagged growth platforms: diabetes, respiratory, emerging markets, Japan and the blood thinner Brilinta, all of which helped drive a 4% increase in 9-month revenue.

Woodford thinks the 75% sales hike is doable, increasingly so, given the company's progress over the last 6 months. "AstraZeneca's target to increase revenues by three quarters over the next decade is a tough one, but one which we believe can be achieved," Woodford said.

- see the release from AstraZeneca
- check out Woodford's comments

Special Report: Top 10 pharma companies by 2013 revenue - AstraZeneca - Pfizer