Busy AstraZeneca posts Q4 beats as executives promise light at the end of the tunnel

AstraZeneca needs just one more year to bring itself back to growth, CEO Pascal Soriot promised investors Friday. But the company delivered a pair of fourth-quarter beats in the meantime.

Several products topped (PDF) expectations for the quarter, helping push overall revenue past the $5.52 forecast to $5.78 billion. In turn, earnings per share hit $1.30, blowing away 80-cent predictions.

As Bernstein's Tim Anderson wrote in a note to clients, "true-up adjustments in the U.S. flattered multiple major products," including Onglyza, Symbicort and Crestor. But key growth products Farxiga, an SGLT2 diabetes product, and Tagrisso, a targeted lung cancer drug, were also among those to outperform, posting $332 million and $304 million, respectively.

And the British drugmaker expects the pair to keep up the good work, too. “Within two years we turned this product into a blockbuster and it’s growing extremely rapidly,” Soriot told investors on a conference call of Tagrisso. And AZ sees “substantial further opportunity” in its class, executives said, especially if it can break out of diabetes and into the cardiovascular arena.

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Lynparza, another hot cancer therapy, also came through with “really, really strong growth across all regions,” David Fredrickson, EVP and global oncology head, told investors. As part of a partnership agreement, the companies recently joined sales forces in the field, just in time for Lynparza’s launch in breast cancer. “That was on purpose,” Fredrickson noted, adding that the collaboration “is going well.”

AZ also credited its representatives with a strong start for mantle cell lymphoma product Calquence, which the company estimates is used in about one in five new patient starts after only just launching on Oct. 31. And immuno-oncology agent Imfinzi, while still small at $18 million for the quarter, has taken third place in the bladder cancer market, where it’s currently facing off against every other approved PD-1 or PD-L1 drug.

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That’s not to say pharma giant’s representatives can stop there—or that Imfinzi will, either. They’re gearing up to launch that drug in a lung-cancer maintenance setting where there aren’t currently any therapies in use—meaning “a lot of education will be required,” executives said. The company is also in the process of rolling out Fasenra, a competitor to GlaxoSmithKline’s first-to-market Nucala.

With so many launches in the works, Soriot thinks “we are in a really good place and getting to the end of this really difficult period,” he said. But “there’s another year ... to go” before the company will “experience fast growth,” and that’s 2018. For the year, AstraZeneca expects sales to increase by a low single-digit percentage, with core EPS landing between $3.30 and $3.50.