AZ chief warns of ongoing cost cuts

Don't expect AstraZeneca's ($AZN) cost-cutting program to stop soon. In remarks at the Reuters Health Summit, CEO David Brennan said the company will be continually looking at its commercial operations for potential savings. "You'll continue to see us reallocate marketing and sales resources," Brennan said. "There is more to go at."

Vulnerable areas include operations related to drugs losing patent protection, such as the heartburn drug Nexium, so that resources can be diverted to growth areas, such as emerging markets and Japan. To keep costs down, the company will also be partnering more, Brennan said. "It's good to have a partner," he said. "We are decreasing our sales force size, not increasing it. I am not quick to say yes when people say they want to hire more people."

Brennan also addressed another potential vulnerability: Crestor, the statin drug that will have to compete against new generic copies of Pfizer's megablockbuster Lipitor next year. AstraZeneca sees a particular niche for its cholesterol med, so it doesn't expect a big drop in Crestor pricing once cheap Lipitor copycats are available.

"My expectation around pricing is that it's going to be more evolutionary rather than revolutionary," Brennan said. "Our marketing strategy for a few years has been Crestor is the product you go to when patients have a more complicated set of risk factors, not just for straightforward 'we need to lower cholesterol.'"

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