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AstraZeneca says 'no comment' to reports of Crestor sale ahead of Q1 results

AstraZeneca PLC declined to comment on reports that it is considering the sale of its former blockbuster cholesterol drug Crestor just over a week after announcing the disposal of another former blockbuster, Seroquel.

Approved in 2003 by U.S. regulators, Crestor had been Cambridge, England-based AstraZeneca's best-selling medicine, with sales climbing to $5 billion a year until the patent protection lapsed in July 2017. Seroquel, an antipsychotic drug used to treat schizophrenia, attained peak sales of $3 billion a year after it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1997. AstraZeneca sold Seroquel to Luye Pharma Group Ltd. on May 7.

Together with Crestor and gastrointestinal medicine Nexium, Seroquel helped fuel the drugmaker's growth in the last decade. The drugs have now all succumbed to cheaper generic competition, and the patent expiries pushed revenue down by 2% last year. The U.K. drugmaker has been jettisoning older medicines and refocusing on core therapeutic areas such as cancer as part of an ongoing externalization program that it hopes will help to fund the late-stage pipeline.

CEO Pascal Soriot was optimistic about AstraZeneca's portfolio of experimental medicines and sales of newer therapies Brilinta and Farxiga each totaled over $1 billion in the year, in addition to growth in the cancer franchise.

"We have a tremendous pipeline, a pipeline even stronger than we would have imagined a couple of years ago," Soriot told reporters at a press conference following the full-year results.

Still, faced with the patent expiries and high costs of advancing late-stage medicines, AstraZeneca entered an $8.5 billion deal with Merck & Co. Inc. to share the cost of developing the cancer medication Lynparza in combination with Keytruda and with AstraZeneca's own immuno-oncology drug Imfinzi, as well as on its own.

"We do not comment on market rumor and speculation," said AstraZeneca spokesperson Gonzalo Vina, after Bloomberg News reported that Crestor may be sold off for $1 billion.

"If the company were to confirm, it would be good news," said one analyst who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"Firstly, it would imply three times historic sales for a product which is in decline, and secondly, there would be more cash to invest in R&D at a time when investors' confidence in their ability to deliver on the pipeline is improving," said the analyst, who rates the stock a buy.

The company will unveil results for the first quarter May 18.