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AstraZeneca’s Q3 2023 results show strong momentum – and it invests in once-a-day obesity pill

AstraZeneca continued its strong momentum in the third quarter, recording total revenue of $11.49billion, up 13 per cent year-on-year excluding Covid-19 medicines.

The performance was bolstered by the demand for its cancer medicines, with revenue from oncology products rising 17 per cent at a constant exchange rate (CER).

The Discovery Centre, AstraZeneca's R&D site on Cambridge Biomedical Campus
The Discovery Centre, AstraZeneca's R&D site on Cambridge Biomedical Campus

Its CVRM medicines - cardiovascular, renal and metabolism - also performed strongly, up 16 per cent, while revenue from its rare disease products was up by 14 per cent.

The demand for these drugs, and growth in emerging markets, is helping the Cambridge Biomedical Campus-based biopharmaceutical offset the decline in sales of its Covid medicines and vaccine.

Even taking Covid products into account, AstraZeneca’s revenues were up six per cent on a CER basis in the third quarter.

CEO Pascal Soriot said: “Our company continued its strong growth trajectory in the third quarter with total revenue from our non‑Covid-19 medicines up 13 per cent compared to last year.

Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca. Picture: AstraZeneca
Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca. Picture: AstraZeneca

“We initiated several Phase III trials of high-potential molecules this quarter, including for volrustomig, our PD-1/CTLA-41 bispecific antibody. Our portfolio of bispecifics has the potential to replace the first-generation checkpoint inhibitors across a range of cancers.

“We also initiated a fixed dose combination study of zibotentan with Farxiga which has the potential to significantly improve outcomes for patients with kidney disease not well controlled on current standard of care.”

Meanwhile, the company looked towards its future profit line by announcing a major investment in a once-daily pill for the treatment of obesity, type-2 diabetes and other cardiometabolic conditions.

It is paying $185million upfront to license a glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor agonist (GLP-1RA) called ECC5004 from Eccogene, followed by up to $1.825billion, depending on clinical, regulatory and commercial milestones.

The drug candidate is in the first of three stages of clinical trials and is therefore some way behind drugs from Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly in the same market.

But AstraZeneca notes that a pill is preferable to an injection for most patients, and Eccogene’s drug is rapidly absorbed, meaning it does not stay in the stomach long - something that could help reduce the nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain that other weight-loss drugs can cause.

“I am excited about the acceleration of our cardiometabolic and obesity pipeline with today’s licensing agreement for ECC5004, a potential best-in-class, oral GLP-1RA2,” said Mr Soriot.

“This molecule could offer an important advance, as both a monotherapy and in combinations, for the estimated one billion people living with cardiometabolic diseases such as type-2 diabetes and obesity.”

Sharon Barr, executive vice president, biopharmaceuticals R&D at AstraZeneca. Picture: Keith Heppell
Sharon Barr, executive vice president, biopharmaceuticals R&D at AstraZeneca. Picture: Keith Heppell

Sharon Barr, executive vice president, biopharmaceuticals R&D at AstraZeneca, added: “Building on the promising Phase I clinical data generated by Eccogene, we believe this oral GLP-1RA molecule could offer alternatives to current injectable therapies both as a potential monotherapy as well as in combination for cardiometabolic diseases such as type-2 diabetes, as well as for obesity. ECC5004 further strengthens our existing pipeline addressing both incretin and non-incretin pathways, including our GLP-1/glucagon dual agonist [AZD9550] and long-acting amylin analogue [AZD6234].”

For the first nine months of the year, AstraZeneca;s core earnings per share (EPS) is up 17 per cent to $5.80, beating earlier expectations.

“Given the momentum in the year to date we have increased our full-year guidance for total revenue excluding Covid medicines as well as for core EPS,” noted Mr Soriot.

AstraZeneca also announced positive results from the EMERALD-1 Phase III trial of Imfinzi plus bevacizumab for patients with liver cancer eligible for embolisation - a procedure that blocks the blood supply to the tumour and can also deliver chemotherapy or radiation therapy directly to the liver.

The results showed an immunotherapy combination with transarterial chemoembolisation (TACE) significantly improved progression-free survival.

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