Anglo-Swedish company, AstraZeneca, saw its share price rise on both sides of the Atlantic yesterday after the company posted an in-line earnings increase for 2004, and said that growth would continue in 2005 in spite of recent setbacks.

The firm was dogged by a spate of disappointments towards the end of last year – US regulators rejected the clotbuster, Exanta (ximelegatran), which had been considered key in the firm’s pipeline [[11/10/04b]], the cholesterol-lowering drug Crestor (rosuvastatin) became the subject of mounting safety concerns [[24/11/04d]], and trial data revealed that there was no overall survival benefit amongst patients taking the firm’s non-small cell lung cancer agent, Iressa (gefitinib) [[20/12/04b]]. It has seen billions wiped off its share price in recent months, but redeemed itself slightly with an impressive 55% hike in fourth quarter pre-tax profits to $1.3 billion, on the back of a 19% hike in sales to $5.8 billion, versus the same period last year [[29/01/04a]]. For the full-year, profits were up 16% at $4.9 billion and sales posted a 14% rise to $21.4 billion. Key growth products led the pack, with a collective 30% sales hike to $11.2 billion, and included a 15% rise in revenues from the anti-ulcerant, Nexium (esomeprazole), to $3.9 billion, a 33% rise from the anti-psychotic, Seroquel (quetiapine), to $2 billion, a 32% increase from the asthma drug, Symbicort (budesonide and formoterol), to $797 million. Crestor’s sales topped $908 million in 2004 – up significantly on the $129 recorded in 2003 – but the firm says that sales were adversely affected by the “unfounded challenges” to its safety.

Sir Tom McKillop, chief executive, said: “We have delivered a strong… financial performance in 2004, despite some disappointment with recently introduced products. We are determined to restore shareholder confidence and deliver good earnings growth in the coming years through strong sales growth from key products and continued delivery of productivity gains, whilst progressing the development pipeline.”

For 2005, the firm is expecting earnings per share in the range of $2.40 to $2.55 – up by as much as 21% on the $2.11 recorded last year.