AstraZeneca has warned that its sales and profits will drop in 2013 as patent expiries and tough market conditions continue to bite the books.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker has forecast a mid-to-high single digit drop in sales for the year, coupled with a profit hit from a decline "significantly more than revenues".

The warning came as the company unveiled its financial results for the fourth quarter of 2012.

A 16% drop in sales to $7.3 billion for the period was recorded as turnover of cholesterol drug Crestor (rosuvastatin) fell 7% to $1.6 billion (at constant exchange rates), the antiulcerant Nexium (esomeprazole) slipped 1% to just over $1 billion, the antibiotic Seroquel IR (quetiapine) plummeted 92% to $94 million, and Atacand (candesartan), for hypertension, plunged 41% to $202 million.

On the plus side, respiratory infection drug Synagis (palivizumab) jumped 22% to $503 million, the breast cancer drug Faslodex (fulvestrant) was up 20% at $175 million, and the bloodthinner Brilique (Brilinta in the US) managed to pull in $38 million. 

Still, core operating profit dropped 15% to $2.53 billion, or $1.56 a share, for the period.

Similarly, for the full year 2012, revenues dropped 15% to $28 billion, while core EPS fell 9% to $6.41, reflecting the loss of exclusivity on several brands, the firms said.

Nevertheless, despite the challenges new chief executive Pascal Soriot remains upbeat about the firm's future.

'Fundamental strengths'

AstraZeneca’s "fundamental strengths" will be "key in returning the company to growth and achieving scientific leadership while maintaining our reputation for strong financial discipline", he said, and stressed: "It is my firm belief that we have the brands, science, pipeline and people to create distinctive, long-term value for patients and shareholders".

The company has long put in motion plans to soften the blow of generic competition, R&D failures, and the difficult financial climate: as part of this last year it announced a 7,300 jobs cull worldwide to generate annual savings of $1.6 billion by 2014, of which around $350 million were realised by the end of last year.

The finer details on Soriot's strategy for the firm going forward have yet to be revealed, but it is hoped that a clearer picture will be provided at AstraZeneca's planned Capital Markets Day on March 21 this year.