AstraZeneca has managed to achieve 2% growth in pretax profit for the full year 2010 on strong results of some of its key drugs, including the cholesterol pill Crestor.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker said this morning that, overall, sales for the full year remained flat (at constant exchange rates) with 2009 at $33.3 billion, as 7% a drop in the US from generic competition was countered by 7% growth in revenues from the rest of the world, driven my emerging markets which topped $5 billion for the first time.

The cholesterol-buster Crestor performed particularly well over the 12-month period, generating turnover of $5.7 billion, up 24% on 2009, while Symbicort jumped 20% to $2.7 billion and Faslodex jumped 33% to $345 million.

But core operating profit was also level with last year at $13.6 billion. Restructuring and intangible impairments were almost twice last year’s level, but this was largely offset by the fourth quarter adjustment to exclude a $791 million gain arising from changes made to retirement benefits in the UK, the group explained. 

According to AZ chief David Brennan, the group's performance in 2010 "underlines the strength and resilience" of its business. "Despite government pricing pressures and anticipated patent expiries in the US and Western Europe, our revenues remained in line with the previous year driven by excellent performance of our key brands and continued growth in Emerging Markets. This performance, combined with disciplined management of the business enabled us to deliver increased earnings, increase the dividend and 

return residual cash to shareholders through share repurchases,” he noted.

Fourth-quarter sales fall

On the down side, revenue in the fourth quarter dipped 3% at CER. Unfortunately a respectable 5% boost in revenues recoded for the rest of world was dragged down by a 12% fall in US sales as generic competition ate into market shares as well as the absence of H1N1 pandemic influenza vaccine revenue. Again, emerging markets did particularly well with growth up 15%.

Crestor also performed well during the period, leaping 36% to $752 million, and Symbicort sales grew 15% to $741 million.

Core operating profit in the fourth quarter dipped 2% to $2.9 billion.

Looking ahead, the firm warned that the coming years "will be challenging for the industry and for the Company, as its revenue base transitions through a period of exclusivity losses and new product launches". 

AZ has forecast revenues of $28 billion to $34 billion per annum over the 2010-14 period, as revenue growth from key franchises remaining patent protected and continued growth in emerging markets are pressured by the loss of market exclusivity on a number of products. Revenues this year will be hit by the loss of market exclusivity for Arimidex in the US and Europe, and is forecast to range from flat to a low-single digit decline compared with 2010, it said.