AstraZeneca has just posted a 4% rise in sales for the fourth quarter, though pre-tax profits fell 10% at constant exchange rates to $1.82 billion.

Sales reached $8.19 billion and the company’s biggest earner was the antiulcerant blockbuster Nexium (esomeprazole) which rose 6% to $1.32 billion, and were up 2%. in the USA to $832 million despite lower prices there. The most impressive performance, however, came from the cholesterol-lowerer Crestor (rosuvastatin) soared 30% to $987 million.

AstraZeneca noted that Crestor prescriptions in the USA increased 17%, helped by the added atherosclerosis indication and more than four times the market growth rate (4%). The other major branded statins experienced a nearly 18% decline in total prescriptions in aggregate, the firm added.

Revenues from the asthma combo Symbicort (budesonide and formoterol) increased 29% to $514 million, while the antipsychotic Seroquel (quetiapine) rose 10% to $1.16 billion. Sales of the breast cancer drug Arimidex (anastrozole) slipped 1% to $451, while generic competition in Europe to the oncology agent Casodex (bicalutamide) saw sales of the drug fall 24% to $284 million. The respiratory infection drug Synagis (palivizumab), from the company’s MedImmune unit, rose 5% to $506 million.

In geographic terms, US sales were up 3%, despite the erosion of revenues from the blood pressure drug Toprol XL/Seloken (metoprolol), which has suffered from generic competition. Sales in western Europe and Japan rose 1% and 4% respectively, due principally to Crestor, but most impressive were the emerging markets where revenues were up 13% to $1.02 billion.

AstraZeneca added that it will expand its restructuring programme to reach annual savings of $2.95 billion by 2013. This will see the firm lay off 15,000 people by 2013, up from an earlier target of 7,600 job cuts.

Chief executive David Brennan said that the company “has delivered a robust performance in an increasingly challenging market environment”. He added that “we are also making good headway in further improving the efficiency of our organisation” and the expansion of its restructuring efforts “is another important step towards sustaining our long-term competitiveness.”