AstraZeneca's new launches shine in Q2 as it inches toward turnaround

Pascal Soriot
AZ CEO Pascal Soriot said Thursday that his company was at a "pivot point." (AstraZeneca)

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot knows he keeps saying the same thing over and over, but once again, he had just one message for investors Thursday: Hang in there.

“We are at this pivot point where the growth of our new products is accelerating and will soon supersede the decline of the old products,” he said during the company’s second-quarter earnings webcast.

“… Another few quarters and we will be done with those patent expiries and we will be in a very, very different place,” he added later in the presentation.

This time around, though, that message—paired with sunny results for the quarter—seemed to inspire investors, who sent shares skyward.

RELATED: AstraZeneca's Imfinzi breaks new I-O ground with landmark $1B lung cancer nod

Generics continued to drag down off-patent Crestor, whose sales plummeted by 42% year over year in constant exchange rates, but plenty of the meds AstraZeneca has tabbed as growth drivers lived up to their billing. Sales of lung cancer drug Tagrisso soared by 77% to $422 million for the quarter, while those of immuno-oncology product Imfinzi nearly doubled from last quarter’s haul. The therapy pulled in $122 million in Q2 on the back of a new lung cancer maintenance approval to record $184 million in the year’s first half.

RELATED: AstraZeneca goes to battle with GSK with nod for Nucala challenger Fasenra

Outside the cancer arena, executives applauded the company’s first respiratory biologic, Fasenra, which rolled out playing catch-up to GlaxoSmithKline’s Nucala. It generated $86 million in the first half—$65 million of which came in the second quarter—in a showing commercial head Mark Mallon called “in line with our expectations given its highly competitive class.” He attributed the success in part to the company’s “best-in-class” patient access program and to the drug’s speed of action.

Patients are “feeling an effect on the first dose,” he said.

Soriot, as he has in recent quarters, again praised the entire commercial organization for how the company’s key launches have gone so far. As the company has built up its pipeline over the last few years, people have asked him whether AZ had “the commercial strength to launch those products,” he said.

And now that those launches are underway, “I think we can say absolutely yes,” he said, adding that “our commercial organization is very strong.”

Of course, the British drugmaker still has a ways to go before it can put its patent cliff fully in the rearview mirror. For the quarter (PDF), revenue of $5.16 billion fell 1% short of last year’s Q2 haul, and core earnings per share of 69 cents checked in 26% below the year ago-period’s.