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Covid vaccine maker AstraZeneca doubles 2020 profit

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(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 17, 2020 a drop from a syringe with the logo of British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. – AstraZeneca, the British maker of a Covid vaccine with Oxford University, said that net profit more than doubled last year to $3.2 billion on strong sales of new cancer drugs on February 11, 2021. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

AstraZeneca, the British maker of a Covid vaccine with Oxford University, said Thursday that net profit more than doubled last year to $3.2 billion on strong sales of new cancer drugs.

Profit after tax, equivalent to 2.64 billion euros, soared 139 percent compared with 2019, the pharmaceutical giant said in a statement.

Group revenue jumped 9.0 percent — or 10 percent at constant exchange rates — to $26.6 billion.

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The update did not include any current or projected earnings from AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine which is being rolled out worldwide.

“Despite the significant impact from the pandemic, we delivered double-digit revenue growth” in 2020, chief executive Pascal Soriot said in the earnings statement.

“The consistent achievements in the pipeline, the accelerating performance of our business and the progress of the Covid-19 vaccine demonstrated what we can achieve,” he added.

The update comes one day after AstraZeneca said it plans to accelerate production of its Covid vaccine in the second quarter to support EU needs, thanks to a deal struck with Germany’s IDT Biologika.

AstraZeneca’s other main focus is oncology treatments, which accounted for 43 percent of group revenues in 2020.

Revenue from cancer medicines, including Lynparza and Tagrisso, jumped 23 percent year-on-year.

The coronavirus pandemic meanwhile hit sales of other AstraZeneca drugs.

The company said “the largest direct impacts of Covid-19 on the company’s portfolio” included reduced sales of respiratory drug Pulmicort in China and less use globally of infused and injectable medicines such as Imfinzi and Fasenra.

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Sales of Brilinta were impacted by a drop in hospital admissions to treat heart attacks, the company added.

Covid vaccine
AstraZeneca’s share price was up 1.7 percent at £73.70 following the earnings update on London’s FTSE 100 index, which was steady overall.

“For a company that has been at the forefront of leading the fight against Covid-19, the (recent) performance in the AstraZeneca share price has been very underwhelming, with the shares at ten-month lows,” noted Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK.

“A lot of this may have to do with the fact that AstraZeneca… is producing the vaccine at cost.”

The vaccine has garnered praise for its low cost relative to rivals and the ease of storage. A regular refrigerator can be used to store the vaccine.

On Wednesday meanwhile, the World Health Organization approved the AstraZeneca coronavirus shot for over-65s, boosting the global immunisation effort against Covid-19.

There have been concerns in some parts overusing the vaccine on the elderly.

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In another setback, the jab was temporarily excluded from South Africa’s immunisation campaign over questions about its effectiveness against a new strain of the virus first identified in the country.

AstraZeneca’s announcement of more jabs for the European Union meanwhile follows controversy over initial deliveries.

Ahead of the EU’s vaccine approval, AstraZeneca sparked fury in Brussels by announcing that it would miss its target of supplying the bloc with 400 million doses, owing to a shortfall at the firm’s European plants.

While the UK government has vaccinated millions of Britons with the AstraZeneca vaccine since late last year, the company began shipping its jab to the EU only on Friday after the bloc’s drug regulator took a comparatively much longer time to recommend its use.

AstraZeneca’s 2020 was notable also for its $39-billion takeover of US biotech firm Alexion in December as it looks to boost treatments of blood disorders.

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