AstraZeneca (AZN) has been struggling a little bit to get high sales numbers out of its key heart drug Brilinta, but that may be starting to change. Moving forward with studies and gaining further recommendations will certainly help incentivize people to prescribe and use the drug, especially with the struggles of the generic competition from Sanofi (SNY) and Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY). New prescriptions will help build AstraZeneca's revenue and bottom line, especially as heart disease continues to be a problem. With consistent gross profits of over $6 billion and an operating profit that's stayed above 25% continuously, AstraZeneca's increase in customer base should help bring those numbers up and raise its stock price.
AstraZeneca is currently trading around $47 and has been on a general upward trend ever since the early part of June, and I do not expect this to stop yet. Analysts have an average median price target of $49 for AstraZeneca, giving it the benefit of decent price growth. It has a trailing P/E of 7.09 and an earnings per share of almost 6 and a half, rewarding its investors with healthy profit.
A panel of experts from the American College of Cardiology Foundation and the American Heart Association recently gave a class 1 recommendation for AstraZeneca's heart drug Brilinta. This recommendation was for its use with unstable angina (UA) or non-ST-elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI). This shows even more credibility in the scientific field, which will be beneficial to AstraZeneca.
The reason why this recommendation is so important is that sales have been poor for Brilinta so far, and this recommendation may be one step in improving sales. It could make physicians prescribe the drug more frequently, which would help boost sales. Brilinta has been doing better this year already. First-quarter sales accounted for nearly $9 million, which is higher than the $5 million from fourth-quarter sales in 2011. In addition, AstraZeneca began to collaborate with The Medicines Company (MDCO) in April of this year to market the drug more effectively. This company has a strong presence in hospitals and should be able to help AstraZeneca. The recommendation adds to this and should help the marketing process go even smoother, helping bolster sales and bring more profit to AstraZeneca and its shareholders.
AstraZeneca is targeting competition from Sanofi and Bristol Myers Squibb and generic competitors in recent studies. In an earlier clinical trial called Plato, AstraZeneca compared Brilinta with Bristol-Myers and Sanofi's drug Plavix, but this was only the beginning of a long-term study known as Parthenon. This will include 51,000 patients around the world and should give a better understanding of Brilinta's use. In the most recent development, AstraZeneca has announced that it will compare Brilinta with clopidogrel-the generic form of Plavix-in 11,500 patients at age 50 or older. AstraZeneca is hoping to find new uses for the drug, and large studies like this are a good way to do this. Despite the fact that Brilinta only brought in $21 million last year, analysts believe sales could bring in $502 million by 2014. This is a significant boost and could ensure that AstraZeneca's yearly profit continues to climb, as it has since 2008 ($31.6 billion in 2008, $33.5 billion in 2011).
Annual sales were even forecast to reach $1.2 billion by 2016, but due to the cheap, generic form of Plavix, it is difficult for AstraZeneca to compete with it. An earlier study has shown Brilinta to be better for patients with acute coronary syndromes though, which it is currently approved for. The new study deals with peripheral artery disease, so it shows AstraZeneca moving into new territory with the drug. Hopefully, this study will be a success and position Brilinta in an even better position when compared to Plavix.
Sanofi and Bristol-Myers may face some trouble from recent lawsuits over Plavix as well. One woman recently claimed that Plavix led to gastrointestinal bleeding, which she is a danger that she believes the company was aware of but decided to hide. On the same day, a man filed a lawsuit against the companies, claiming that Plavix caused severe hemorrhaging. While Brilinta is receiving recommendations and AstraZeneca is working to prove its drug through clinical trials, Plavix is under legal fire. Sanofi and Bristol-Myers may be facing more difficulty as time moves on, making the price of their generic drug no longer good enough when considering differences in quality.
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) may eventually become a competitor in this industry, as it recently acquired Human Genome Sciences (HGSI) and gained complete ownership of experimental heart drug darapladib. This is in late-stage testing, but there have been no other major developments with it in recent times. As this drug makes its way through testing though, it will help GlaxoSmithKline deal with the generic competition bringing down its older heart drugs, Coreg and Arixtra. The new drug will not have a major impact on the battle between AstraZeneca, Sanofi, and Bristol-Myers for now, but it will be one to keep an eye on as things develop in the heart drug industry.
After considering all of this, things look very promising for AstraZeneca at the moment. Brilinta has received a high recommendation, and new trials may continue to show its benefits when compared to generic competitors. Sanofi and Bristol-Myers, however, face lawsuits over Plavix, so this may pull down their market share even further, depending on how these cases develop. Both are relatively expensive at this point in time, furthermore, so I would not recommend either Sanofi or Bristol-Myers stock. I do not think this heart drug from GlaxoSmithKline is enough to recommend it either, as there have not been any real developments with the drug in the recent news. I think AstraZeneca is in a great place, and it has a reasonable price at the moment. I also believe that its upward trend will continue, as the situation continues to look better for Brilinta and worse for its main competition. With all this in mind, I do recommend AstraZeneca stock at the moment.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.