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Symbicort patent loss drags down AZ's share value

Shares in Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca have fallen 2.5 per cent to rest at GBP 24.91 after the company lost patent protection on its Symbicort asthma product.

Shares in Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca (AZ) have fallen 2.5 per cent (GBP 0.63) to rest at GBP 24.91 after the company lost patent protection on its Symbicort (budesonide/ formoterol) asthma product.

According to Bloomberg, AZ's share value drop was the third-largest on the FTSE 100 Index.

On 18 October, the EU Patent Office's board of appeal revoked a key patent on Symbicort, effectively exposing the drug to generic competition, after seven companies challenged it.

Symbicort racked up FY06 global sales of USD 1.2bn. The EU region accounted for USD 1bn of total sales.

The patent loss adds to AZ's existing woes, as on 9 October, the EU's patent board backed a patent and amended two others on AZ's blockbuster antacid pill Nexium (esomeprazole) when it was challenged by German generics firm Ratiopharm.

UBS analysts said that the Symbicort patent loss would draw attention to other risks at AZ, which they felt had been ignored previously. They expected AZ's share to continue to decline and advised investors to sell. They also reduced estimates of Symbicort's 2012 sales in the EU region from USD 1.7bn to USD 599m.

AZ's reliance on Symbicort, Nexium and Crestor (rosuvastatin) has been its Achilles' heel, as the company has suffered various late-stage pipeline failures: heart treatment AGI-1067; anti-coagulant  Exanta (ximelagatran); diabetes treatment Galida (tesaglitazar); and stroke candidate NXY-059.

Despite the patent ruling, data exclusivity protection for Symbicort was not removed and will stand until August 2010 in the EU. Other patents continue to cover the inhaler's process, formulation and the Turbohaler delivery device.

AZ's CEO, David Brennan, said in a press statement: "We do not believe that the EPO decision will have an immediate impact in the EU or any impact on the US or Japanese patents."

30th September 2008

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