AstraZeneca expects earnings rise despite Crestor, Exanta, Iressa questions

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AstraZeneca said it expects its 2005 earnings to rise as much as 12 percent despite the swirling concerns around its cholesterol-lowering Crestor indication, the effectiveness of its cancer drug Iressa, and the approval of its pipeline oral anticoagulant Exanta.
AZ made the forecast as it revealed to investors today that its fourth quarter profits rose 52 percent, fueled by sales of Nexium.
AZ's net income in the fourth quarter was $968 million, compared with $635 million in the same quarter in 2003, the U.K.-based company said in its regulatory news service statement. Nexium generated $1.1 billion in fourth quarter sales.
However, it appears that AZ will become increasingly dependent on older drugs and cost-cutting measures after it failed to prove Iressa extended the life of cancer patients taking the drug or get FDA approval for its blood thinner Exanta in 2004.
AZ's fourth quarter profit included provisions charged for the inventories of the drugs. The company wrote down $71 million for Exanta inventories and $85 million of Iressa inventories.
And although Crestor sales were $908 million for 2004, with sales of $312 million in the fourth quarter, its future has also been called into question. 
In the wake of last year's Vioxx withdrawal, FDA medical reviewer David Graham told a Senate panel that Crestor, was one of five drugs that needed further safety review despite their approval by federal regulators.
Despite declines in market share, AZ chief executive Tom McKillop said in October he expects Crestor to take a 20 percent share of the $20 billion market for cholesterol drugs
Crestor had 6 percent of new prescriptions in the U.S. market for cholesterol drugs in the week ending Jan. 14, according to a Bloomberg.com report. This compares with 7.5 percent in the week ending Sept. 24.
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