Drugmaker AstraZeneca profits climb by nearly a third

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Anglo-Swedish pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca said Thursday that first-quarter net profit soared 29 percent, helped by a "strong" performance in emerging markets and sales of key drugs.

Net earnings leapt to 2.78 billion dollars (2.09 billion euros) in the three months to the end of March, compared with the same part of 2009, AstraZeneca said in a results statement.

That easily beat market expectations for net profit of 2.15 billion dollars, according to analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires.

Turnover grew by 11 percent to 8.576 billion dollars during the reporting period, boosted by sales of key drugs like cholesterol drug Crestor, anti-psychotic drug Seroquel and asthma treatment Symbicort.

The pharmaceuticals group, which reports in dollars, was also aided by the US currency's strength during the latest quarter.

"The first quarter results reflect continued strong market performance for key brands like Crestor, Seroquel and Symbicort," said Chief Executive David Brennan said in the earnings release.

"We saw revenue growth in all major regions, including another strong quarter in emerging markets."

Earlier this week, meanwhile, AstraZeneca agreed to pay a 520-million-dollar fine to settle allegations it illegally marketed Seroquel for unapproved uses.

The firm's US division agreed to the fine for marketing Seroquel for so-called "off-label" uses not included in the drug's approved product label, the US Justice Department said.

US authorities contended that AstraZeneca illegally marketed Seroquel for uses never approved by the Food and Drug Administration such as aggression, Alzheimer's disease, anger management, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar maintenance, dementia, depression, mood disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and sleeplessness.

By doing so, the pharmaceutical group received government insurance payments that officials said were fraudulent.

Under the settlement terms, the federal government will receive some 301 million dollars and various state insurance programs will get 218 million dollars.

© 2010 AFP

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