AstraZeneca will behave as a biotech and “externalise” its business model to get maximum value from its promising pipeline.

So said chief executive Pascal Soriot at the company’s annual press briefing in London this morning which revealed a 40% decline in fourth quarter core operating profit to $1.18 billion and a revenue slip of 2% to $6.68 billion.

The antiulcerant Nexium (esomeprazole) fell 16% to $832 million, helped by having no generic competition yet in the USA, although a launch of Teva’s copy is imminent. AstraZeneca's biggest-seller, the cholesterol blockbuster Crestor (rosuvastatin), slipped 5% to $1.39 billion.

Nevertheless there were plenty of bright spots and Dr Soriot focused on the firm’s “growth platforms”. Sales of the antiplatelet drug Brilique/Brilinta (ticagrelor) were up 45% to $133 million, while its diabetes franchise is booming - Onglyza (saxagliptin) brought in $200 million, up 115%, while Bydureon (exenatide extended-release) climbed 151% to $123 million.

Actavis buy to boost respiratory

Another key area is respiratory, and Symbicort (budesonide/formoterol) for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma was flat at $978 million. Sales were up 13% in the USA but are “decelerating”, AstraZeneca said. The company also announced that it is buying Actavis’ branded respiratory drug business in North America for an initial $600 million.

For 2015, revenues are expected to fall by mid single-digits at constant exchange rates, while core earnings per share should increase by low single-digits. When asked how this will be achieved, chief financial officer Marc Dunoyer said AstraZeneca will focus “more than ever” on externalisation.

He noted that the firm’s spend on research and marketing in 2014 should be seen as a peak and “we are actively looking to reduce R&D spend”. This is where externalisation comes in, with AstraZeneca looking to raise revenues from partnerships and licensing products and technologies and Dr Soriot noted that advanced talks are going on in this area.

He said “we will do what a biotech would do” and foster a development model based on “entrepreneurial spirit and speed”. Dr Soriot added that “we are on a three-step journey” and AstraZeneca is in the second phase that will see a return to growth in 2017. By 2023, he remains confident of generating annual sales of more than $45 billion.