How AstraZeneca is making up for declining Covid-19 sales

The British drugmaker saw a steep decline in sales of its Covid-19 vaccine and antibody drugs in 2023.
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Despite an anticipated hit from declining Covid-19 sales, pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca is faring pretty well—the company’s latest earnings report shows a 19% increase in revenue compared to the same quarter in 2023, bringing in a total of $12.7 billion.

Last year, executives from the UK-based company—which is one of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies in the world by revenue—braced for a drop in sales of Covid products, which include a vaccine called Vaxzevria and two antibody therapies, Evusheld and sipavibart (which is in development).

Sales did in fact decline significantly: Vaxzevria global sales declined 99% to $11 million in 2023, and worldwide sales of its antibody drug fell 86% to $312 million.

But AstraZeneca came prepared with a number of lofty goals to make up for the projected gaps in revenue, including initiating 30 Phase 3 clinical trials by the end of 2023 and introducing 15 new drugs to the market by 2030, Healthcare Brew previously reported.

So, how are those goals going? It’s a bit of a mixed bag.

AstraZeneca fell slightly short of its clinical trials goal, initiating a total of 27 clinical trials in 2023 instead of the desired 30, according to the company’s full-year earnings report.

Another aspect of the company’s post-pandemic strategy involved shifting focus to the antibody therapy Evusheld, Aradhana Sarin, AstraZeneca’s CFO and executive director, previously told Healthcare Brew. Evusheld is made up of two different antibodies and is intended to treat immunocompromised patients with Covid.

But sales of the therapy fell dramatically between 2023 and 2024. In Q1 2024, Evusheld brought in just $2 million, compared to the $127 million it made for the company in Q1 2023.

AstraZeneca has seen some success in its goal of bringing new therapies to the market.

“We saw a number of exciting new approvals in the first quarter,” CEO and executive director Pascal Soriot said in the company’s Q1 2024 earnings call.

For example, the FDA in February approved AstraZeneca’s drug Tagrisso, a treatment for non-small cell lung cancer. In March, the agency also approved Ultomiris, which is a medicine to treat a rare autoimmune disease.

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Soriot said in the earnings call that the company is “anticipating multiple pivotal trials throughout the remainder of the year.”

The recent approvals, combined with other anticipated approvals, could bring in “several billion dollars in total revenue” by 2030, Soriot said in the earnings call.

Tony Ho Wan Loke, a spokesperson for AstraZeneca, said the company is not concerned with the steep decline in Covid-related sales, as its other drug divisions, including oncology, cardiovascular, and respiratory, are the company’s main focus.

The bottom line: Despite falling short on a couple of its goals, AstraZeneca posted strong Q1 earnings, thanks largely to the company’s success in its partnered medicines segment (i.e., drugs the company has developed in partnership with other pharmaceutical companies, like the breast cancer treatment Enhertu AstraZeneca developed with Japanese drugmaker Daiichi Sankyo).

Revenues for the segment increased by more than 60% in Q1 compared to the same quarter the year prior.

Other segments, including oncology, also saw large revenue growth over 2023, helping to ease the blow of slumping Covid sales.

“Between oncology, the metabolic diseases, and also respiratory diseases, that’s where we are seeing the core of our growth, and that’s what we are putting a lot of our efforts toward to really grow deeply within those categories,” Loke said. Rare diseases are also a core area of growth for the company, he added.

Soriot added in the earnings call that AstraZeneca “has made a very strong start to 2024 with demand for our medicines continuing to grow.”

AstraZeneca shares increased by more than 5% following the earnings release, Reuters reported.

Correction 05/17/2024: This article has been edited to note that sipavibart is still in development and that only Evusheld was responsible for 2023 sales figures cited. An additional comment from Tony Ho Wan Loke has also been included.

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Healthcare Brew covers pharmaceutical developments, health startups, the latest tech, and how it impacts hospitals and providers to keep administrators and providers informed.