AstraZeneca is predicting a quicker-than-expected return to growth, driven by a well-stocked late-stage pipeline and the acquisition of Bristol-Myers Squibb's share of the firms' diabetes joint venture.

The company released highlights of a presentation to be given by chief executive Pascal Soriot at the JP Morgan healthcare conference in San Francisco showing that it now has 11 Phase III programmes, almost double the number of a year ago, and 27 projects in Phase II.
AstraZeneca also noted that it has initiated trials for its cancer immunotherapy combinations for which first data readouts are anticipated in 2014/2015.

AstraZeneca is hoping that the pipeline will help soften the blow of forthcoming patent expirations on therapies such as the stomach acid drug Nexium (esomeprazole) and the cholesterol blockbuster Crestor (rosuvastatin). Revenues should also be boosted by the diabetes drugs bought outright from B-MS, notably Onglyza (saxagliptin), Kombiglyze (saxagliptin/metformin) and Forxiga (dapagliflozin) as well as three treatments purchased through the acquisition last year of Amylin - Byetta (exenatide), Bydureon (extended-release exenatide) and Symlin (pramlintide).

Indeed, AstraZeneca, which discontinued 15 projects last year (including its Alzheimer's disease programmes) says it "continues to believe a return to growth should come earlier than analyst consensus currently forecasts". It expects 2017 revenues to be broadly in line with 2013 (although there was no mention of profit growth) and the firm will provide a more detailed update at its full-year results on February 6.

Analysts broadly welcomed the statement and Seamus Fernandez at Leerink Swann upgraded the shares, saying AstraZeneca is "on the cusp of evolving [into] a leader in biologics and speciality care with particularly exciting opportunities in oncology and immuno-oncology". However, Savvas Neophytou at Panmure Gordon warned that "management is stepping onto thin ice with the same sort of guidance already attempted - and failed - by previous management".