AstraZeneca has posted a healthy rises in sales and profits for the third quarter and raised its full-year earnings guidance, boosted by its performance in the emerging markets.

Core operating profit increased 15% to $2.77 billion, while sales at constant exchange rates were up 3% to $7.78 billion. The antiulcerant blockbuster Nexium (esomeprazole) slipped 2% to $1.32 billion, though sales were down 12% to $2.27 million in the USA which AstraZeneca said was principally due to lower prices there. The blood pressure drug Toprol XL/Seloken (metoprolol) sank 42% to $204 million, eroded by generics across the Atlantic.

On the bright side, the cholesterol-lowerer Crestor (rosuvastatin) soared 28% at $922 million, and AstraZeneca noted that it is the only branded statin to gain share in the USA during 2008. Revenues from the asthma combo Symbicort (budesonide and formoterol) increased 25% to $501 million.

Sales of Seroquel (quetiapine) for schizophrenia increased 41% to $1.13 billion, while the breast cancer drug Arimidex (anastrozole) was up 9% to $486 million. The respiratory infection drug Synagis (palivizumab), from the company’s MedImmune unit, edged up 1% to $124 million, due to the “pronounced seasonal pattern” of its sales.

In geographic terms, US sales were up 5%, excluding the Toprol XL effect, and were flat in western Europe. Sales in Japan rose 5%, due principally to Crestor, but most impressive were the emerging markets where revenues were up 18% to $1.1 billion. That rise was due to stronger sales of cardiovascular and oncology products, as well as Nexium.

Chief executive David Brennan said that the firm has delivered “a robust set of results…despite an increasingly challenging environment for the pharmaceutical sector and business in general”. He noted that “we continue to make good progress on reshaping our cost base, including advancing innovation in our R&D activities with greater productivity and efficiency”.

On the back of the results, AstraZeneca raised its guidance for the year to $4.90-$5.05 per share from a previous forecast of $4.60-$4.90. The firm also noted that it will suspend stock repurchases for the rest of the year, having bought back 8.4 million shares in the quarter at a cost of $395 million.

AstraZeneca added that it has stopped the repurchasing programme “in order to maintain the
flexibility to invest in the business”. The company is also looking out for opportunities to acquire and in-license new products, though a big acquisition is unlikely, at least in the short-term.