AstraZeneca chief Pascal Soriot supports Britain as the drugmaker’s profits rise

The head of drugmaker AstraZeneca said Britain was a better place to do business than it was a year ago – but warned that further improvements were needed.

In what could be seen as a warning to the major parties before the general elections, French CEO Pascal Soriot said there is work to be done to boost investment in innovation.

But he was more positive about the UK than he was last year when he described it as a “very unattractive” place to do business.

In April, he criticized Britain’s high taxes, saying it was a difficult country to establish drug manufacturing bases, while describing China as the next big growth area.

But he said yesterday: “We are certainly looking at future investments we can make in the UK and elsewhere.”

Optimistic: AstraZeneca's French CEO Pascal Soriot (pictured) is more positive about the UK than he was last year when he described it as a place

Optimistic: AstraZeneca’s French CEO Pascal Soriot (pictured) is more positive about the UK than he was last year when he described it as a “very unattractive” place to do business

The FTSE 100 boss said it was now easier to conduct clinical trials and praised the Finance Minister for introducing tax policies to “incentivize companies to invest”.

“The life sciences environment in the UK today is different than it was about a year ago,” said Sorio, who was appointed in 2012. The ability to conduct clinical trials has greatly improved.

The government and the NHS have done a lot to facilitate clinical trials. The Chancellor has introduced tax policies that help stimulate companies to invest.

“Finally, industry and government reached a compromise regarding those rebates that were already affecting companies and reducing investment incentives.

There is much more to be done to increase investment in innovation in the UK but it is clear that we are moving in the right direction and in a much better environment. There’s more to come.’

It came as the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical giant doubled its annual profits last year thanks to bumper sales of cancer treatments.

Profits were £5.5 billion in 2023, up from £1.9 billion the previous year, with sales rising 3 per cent to £36.3 billion. Excluding Covid medicines, sales rose 13 per cent.

Cancer drug sales jumped 19 per cent to £14.6 billion and represented 40 per cent of revenues, compared to 35 per cent in 2022.

The London-listed company said revenues and profits this year would rise thanks to blockbuster oncology drugs.

Revenue and underlying earnings per share — a measure of profit — are expected to rise by “low double digits to low teens” in 2024.

But shares fell 6.4 per cent, or 667p, to 9,823p because results for the final three months of the year were not as strong as expected.

It reported profits of £712 million between October and December, 15 per cent higher than a year earlier but lower than analysts had expected – a miss attributed to increased spending on research and development and price cuts on some medicines in emerging markets.

“Pharmaceutical companies typically thrive by having a mix of blockbuster products, treatments with little or no competition, and a healthy pipeline of new drugs,” said Ross Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.

“Astra is under constant pressure to continue to drive growth. This means success in the laboratory as well as products in the market. Its pipeline appears crowded, but success is never guaranteed.

(tags for translation) Daily Mail

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