There will be no major merger or acquisition activity at AstraZeneca, as the Anglo-Swedish drugs major concentrates on collaborations rather than consolidation.

This was the key message that came out of the company's full-year results press conference in London at the end of last week. The figures showed that despite government pricing pressures, plus the impact of US healthcare reforms (some $300 million in 2010), its key brands are performing well and emerging markets are contributing considerable sums.

In particular, sales of the cholesterol blockbuster Crestor (rosuvastatin) are still soaring, up 26% in the fourth quarter to $1.59 billion. The drug is performing well in all regions but climbed 36% in the USA to $752 million. 

However, changes are afoot in the cholesterol market and PharmaTimes World News asked chief executive David Brennan what impact he expects from the arrival in the next year of generic copies of Pfizer's Lipitor (atorvastatin). He said this cannot be quantified as yet but "it is clear payors will want to use generics", notably in the USA.

Mr Brennan believes Crestor will continue to have a very strong position as "the product to go to for higher-risk patients" and played down the importance of a head-to-head trial currently running with Lipitor, saying the data already stacked up behind Crestor confirms its excellent profile. He also noted that in Canada and Spain, where generic Lipitor is already available, the effect on Crestor sales has been minimal.

Less impressive on the sales front has been the performance of Onglyza (saxagliptin), a dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitor for the treatment of type 2 diabetes partnered with Bristol-Myers Squibb, which brought in just $69 million in 2010. Mr Brennan told PharmaTimes World News that "the opportunity is not as big as we thought it would be", as the drug tries to compete with Merck & Co's more-established DPP-4 inhibitor Januvia (sitagliptin). However he has high hopes for Kombiglyze XR, which combines Onglyza with metformin, which was approved in November by the US Food and Drug Administration and is the only once-a-day metformin extended-release plus DPP-4 inhibitor tablet.

The meeting also saw a presentation by Martin Mackay, who decamped from Pfizer last summer to become AstraZeneca's new president of R&D. He noted that a root-and-branch review of every single programme in the pipeline has been carried out and 30% of preclinical projects have been cut.

The number of programmes in the pipeline is down to 92, the first time since 2004 that there has been a decrease from the previous year. Dr Mackay noted that in the past the industry felt that bigger was better but this led to "testing the mechanism of action in the battleground of Phase III" and very high failure rates.

Now a change in strategy is necessary and he said "you will hear me talk a lot less about numbers" and more about quality. Dr Mackay also told PharmaTimes World News that he will be concentrating on areas such as personalised healthcare, developing an integrated payor strategy and changing clinical trial design and interpretation. Part of this will see much more discussion with payors and regulatory bodies such as the FDA and the European Medicines Agency before studies are embarked on.

Summing up, Mr Brennan said that major M&A activity is not on the cards but bolt-on acquisitions are always been looked at. "I'm not a fan of scale for the sake of it", he stated, adding that "collaboration and competition is much more important to us than consolidation".