AstraZeneca has posted another fall in core earnings for the first quarter, but remains positive that it can ride out patent losses for its veteran drugs with a healthy set of late-stage candidates coming through the pipeline.

Keeping schtum on Pfizer's recent advances, the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker reported a 17% drop in Earnings Per Share to $1.17 (11% fall at constant exchange rates) for the period, while operating profit slipped 16% to $1.95 billion.

Reported revenues stayed flat for the period at $6.4 billion, though taking currency impacts out of the equation they actually inched up 3%.

Consolidation of the full diabetes franchise contributed two percentage points of revenue growth, and all growth platforms performed well, with: Brilinta sales coming in at $99 million (+94% CER); the diabetes portfolio $347 million (+106% CER); respiratory $1.3 billion (+12% CER); Emerging Markets $1.4 billion; (+11% CER) and Japan $537 million (+13% CER).

Looking forward, the firm said its late stage pipeline now includes 11 new molecular entities in Phase lll or under regulatory review.

The group plans to initiate the first Phase III study in AZ' portfolio of immune-mediated therapies for cancer, as well as Phase III programmes for AZD9291 (NSCLC), benralizumab (COPD) and tralokinumab (severe asthma).

'Continued momentum'

Commenting on the results, AZ's chief executive Pascal Soriot said there was "continued momentum across the business" and that he was pleased with the "significant progress" the firm is making towards "achieving scientific leadership in our core therapeutic areas".

"We are investing in our rapidly progressing pipeline and the key platforms that are the backbone of our strategy to return to growth," he added.

According to Edison Investment Research analyst Mick Cooper, the drug giant's first-quarter results have been over-taken by Pfizer's interest, but the numbers "highlight why the interest is there". 

"We think AstraZeneca will return to growth faster than many believe, which underlines Pfizer’s opportune timing," he noted.