AstraZeneca's products run the gamut from A (blood pressure drug Atacand) to Z (prostate and breast cancer drug Zoladex). One of the world's major pharmaceutical firms, AstraZeneca specializes in drugs for cardiovascular, neurological, gastrointestinal, respiratory, oncology, and infection therapy areas. The firm's biggest sellers include cholesterol reducer Crestor, cardiovascular drug Brilinta, acid reflux remedy Nexium, and Symbicort for asthma. AstraZeneca also markets drugs that aim to treat high cholesterol, diabetes, pain, viral diseases, and various cancers. The company's products are sold in more than 100 countries.
Sales in emerging markets were up about 10% in 2011 and 4% in 2012 thanks to sales growth in China and Russia. China was really the bright spot with a 17% increase in sales on the strength of the company's cardio and respiratory drugs. As a result, the firm is increasing investments in emerging markets; for instance, in 2011 it announced plans to build a new $200 million manufacturing plant to meet market needs in China. Later that year it acquired generic injectable drug manufacturer Guangdong BeiKang Pharmaceutical.
Growth in China and other emerging markets is key for AstraZeneca's as it sees sales dip in established markets due to patent expiration in its older medications.
In 2013 AstraZeneca sold its only non-pharma business, Aptium Oncology, which operates cancer treatment centers in the US. This came on the heels of selling its other non-core units Astra Tech (medical devices) and DENTSPLY (dental implant systems). The moves are part of the company's focus on streamlining its operations around core drug development and commercialization efforts in targeted therapeutic areas for the past few years as part of strategic restructuring efforts in the face of looming patent expirations and increasing generic competition.
The company estimates that by 2015 more than half of its current revenue will be subject to losses through patent expirations. Since 2010 the number of AstraZeneca's drugs with sales of more than $1 billion each dropped from 10 to seven: Crestor, Atacand, Nexium, Seroquel IR, Seroquel XR, Zoladex, and Symbicort. The firm has especially been feeling the effects of generic competition for some of its top sellers in the US (the company's largest market), where revenues were down 21% due to patent losses and increased generic competition. Established markets Western Europe and Canada also saw double digit drops as Crestor lost patent protection in Canada and sales of Seroquel IR, Nexium, Arimidex and Meronem decreased. Bestseller Seroquel IR lost European patent protection in 2012.
AstraZeneca has had several successes in its R&D organization as it works to keep the bestsellers coming, and sales of newer drugs such as Crestor, Symbicort, and Seroquel XR have helped sustain overall revenues for the company. With a pipeline of about 85 drugs in various development stages as it also looks for acquisitions to boost its product development.
In 2012 the patent loss of Seroquel IR caused revenues to drop 17% to about $28 billion. Net income also fell 37% to $6.3 billion. Despite struggling with patent losses in previous years, AstraZeneca had managed to stay one step ahead of the game through its balanced growth and cost-control efforts. The firm reported increased revenues (though margins are dwindling) and profits in recent years, including a 24% net income rise (to about $10 billion) in 2011, largely due to the sale of Astra Tech. Reported revenues showed a slight 1% increase (to some $33.6 billion) in 2011, though the company reported that with constant exchange rates sales were actually down by about 2%.
The divestiture of Astra Tech in 2011 followed a strategic review seeking to maximize the subsidiary's value; the sale also fit nicely into AstraZeneca's broader strategy to focus on core drug development and commercialization efforts in targeted therapeutic areas.
As part of its cost-control efforts to reduce the impact of patent expirations, AstraZeneca launched a program in early 2010 aiming to reduce its worldwide workforce by about 15% by the end of 2014. When that appeared to not be enough, in early 2012 the company announced restructuring efforts to reduce its workforce by another 10%.
These efforts were led by CEO David Brennan until April 2012, when Brennan abruptly retired as shareholders exerted pressure on the firm to enact more aggressive growth strategies. The announcement followed the expiration of top seller Seroquel IR's patent in March 2012, which took a swift toll on AstraZeneca's earnings. Later that year, the company named Roche executive Pascal Soriot as its new CEO, with hopes that Soriot's experience in pharma strategy and innovation would help it turn around its finances.
The firm is making a concerted effort to strengthen its industry position ahead of patent expirations by overhauling its R&D organization, including by building up its late-stage drug development pipeline through internal research and development, acquisitions, and collaborations. Through its MedImmune unit, it is also building up its R&D programs for new biologic medicines, which enjoy longer terms of patent protection. At the same time, AstraZeneca is streamlining the pipeline to concentrate on the most promising research areas by reducing the number of disease targets within its six core therapy areas (cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, infection, neuroscience, oncology, and respiratory/inflammation). These efforts have resulted in the consolidation of some R&D facilities. AstraZeneca also outsourced some early stage research functions to Charles River Laboratories in 2012.
While trials for a depression candidate under development with biotech firm Targacept were halted in 2012, AstraZeneca and Targacept continue to work on other neurological drugs together. Also in 2012 AstraZeneca formed a partnership with biotech firm Amgen to develop a portfolio of anti-inflammatory drugs.
Mergers and Acquisitions
Along with discovering its own new drugs and collaborating with its pharmaceutical cohorts, AstraZeneca also expands its R&D pipeline through occasional acquisitions. In 2012 the company acquired US development firm Ardea Biosciences for some $1.3 billion to gain a promising gout treatment candidate. In mid-2012 AstraZeneca paid some $3.2 billion to expand its R&D partnership with BMS (following BMS' acquisition of diabetes firm Amylin). AstraZeneca subsequently acquired Amylin, buying out the partnership, in early 2014).
In 2013 AstraZeneca focused expansion efforts on the cardiovascular market. It purchased AlphaCore, a US-based private biotech firm, and agreed to purchase Omthera, which is working to develop heart medicines based on omega-3 fatty acids, for some $443 million.