The UK’s AstraZeneca has recorded earnings per share of $4.20 (excluding certain items) for the full year, comfortably beating its upper target of $4.13 a share.

Operating profit dipped 4% to $8.1 billion, but stripping out restructuring and synergy costs related to its purchase of MedImmune during the year it actually grew 8% to $9.1 billion.

The group booked a sales increase of 7% (at constant exchange rates) to $30 billion, as a drop in US sales of the blood pressure drug Toprol XL (metoprolol) due to generic competition was countered by the contribution of MedImmune's products.

Revenue growth was given a strong helping hand by: the cholesterol-lowerer Crestor (rosuvastatin), up 33% at $2.8 billion; the asthma combo Symbicort (budesonide and formoterol), +22% at $1.6 billion; Seroquel (quetiapine) for schizophrenia, +15% to $4.0 billion; and the breast cancer drug Arimidex (anastrozole), +10% to $1.7 billion. On the down side, turnover of the gastrointestinal drug Nexium (esomeprazole) slipped 2% to $5.2 billion, on pricing pressures and generic competition in the US.

For the fourth quarter, the group reported an 8% rise in sales to $8.1 billion, a 7% fall in operating profit to $1.9 billion (11% growth to $2.3 billion excluding special items), and earnings per share of $0.86 compared with $0.93 for the year-ago period.

Positive outlook
“The strong underlying results for the full year reflect our determined action in three priority areas: our pipeline is significantly stronger, with the acquisition of MedImmune creating a leading position in biologics; key product sales have been robust in major markets and we have achieved strong growth in the emerging markets; and productivity initiatives, including the restructuring programme, are progressing to plan,” commented Chief Executive David Brennan, adding: “I am confident that we are taking the right steps to better position AstraZeneca increasingly challenging market conditions.”

The company has forecast core earnings per share for 2008 in the range of $4.40 to $4.70.

A fuller report on AstraZeneca’s results will be published tomorrow