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Covid Product Sales, Profit Margins Would Drop This Year as Pandemic Recedes, Warns AstraZeneca

A nurse prepares to administer the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine under the COVAX scheme against the COVID-19 at the Eka Kotebe General Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Reuters)

A nurse prepares to administer the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine under the COVAX scheme against the COVID-19 at the Eka Kotebe General Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Reuters)

AstraZeneca rapidly developed a successful Covid-19 jab during the pandemic that generated full-year sales of almost $4.0 billion last year.

British Covid vaccine maker AstraZeneca on Thursday warned that coronavirus product sales and profit margins would drop this year as the pandemic recedes.

AstraZeneca rapidly developed a successful Covid-19 jab during the pandemic that generated full-year sales of almost $4.0 billion (3.5 billion euros) last year, the company said in a results statement.

After initially offering the vaccine at cost, Astra decided in November to begin selling Vaxzevria — developed alongside University of Oxford — for profit.

“Total revenue from Covid-19 medicines is anticipated to decline by a low-to-mid twenties percentage,” AstraZeneca said Thursday.

AstraZeneca forecast that total group revenues would increase however this year, by a “high-teens percentage” thanks in part to sales of antibody treatment Evusheld.

The drug is for high-risk people who show resistance to vaccines against coronavirus.

Astra on Thursday added that its net profit tumbled last year, hit by costs arising from the vast takeover of US biotech firm Alexion.

Profit after tax slumped to $112 million (98 million euros) from $3.2 billion in 2020. Revenues soared 41 percent to $37.4 billion.

Chief executive Pascal Soriot said the company last year delivered on its “promise of broad and equitable access to our Covid-19 vaccine with 2.5 billion doses released for supply around the world”.

At the same time, the group faced vast costs following its $39-billion takeover of Alexion, while large impairment and restructuring charges also weighed.

Astra swung into a pre-tax annual loss of $265 million, after a $3.9-billion profit last time around.

But its share price was up almost 3.0 percent approaching the half-way mark in London trading Thursday. “The Covid vaccine has raised Astra’s global profile significantly,” said Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Keith Bowman.

“For now, and with further innovation and new drug successes ongoing, analyst consensus opinion continues to point to a strong buy” of its shares.

Since taking the helm at AstraZeneca in 2012, Soriot has pushed the company into lucrative treatments such as cancer therapies, and the Alexion takeover gives it more heft in areas such as treating blood disorders.

As for its Covid vaccine, “time spent developing and distributing (the jab)… has been time away from its core business”, Bowman added. “The purchase of Alexion at what is considered a full price is also yet to be fully justified.”

Astra’s EU’s Covid vaccination roll-out was extremely sluggish initially because of a big shortfall in the amount of doses the company had promised the bloc, sparking a row between the parties.

The European Union has since pivoted towards mRNA vaccines, particularly the one produced by US drugs giant Pfizer in partnership with German peer BioNTech, after rare blood-clot problems with AstraZeneca increased public hesitancy about taking it.

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first published:February 10, 2022, 20:15 IST