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Friday, 27th July

AstraZeneca, the struggling drug maker which is without a permanent boss after its chief executive quit under shareholder pressure, yesterday had another ailment to deal with as second-quarter sales fell by a fifth. Sales tumbled 21 per cent to $6.6bn (£4.2bn) in the three months to June, hit by generic competition to Astra's best-selling antipsychotic medicine Seroquel, as well as European governments' squeeze on health spending. Revenues in western Europe fell 20 per cent, following in the footsteps of Astra's bigger British rival GlaxoSmithKline, which yesterday admitted it will only see flat revenues this year.

But Astra has other difficulties: the FTSE 100 drugs giant's ex-chief executive, David Brennan, shocked the City when he quit in April in an apparent boardroom coup just hours before its shareholder meeting. Investors were angry about Astra's plunging revenues as key drugs faced generic competition, as well as its weak pipeline of newproducts, and yesterday threw up fresh evidence of just how bad its predicament is. About half of Astra's $33bn annual revenues are set to fall away over the next four years, including ulcer treatment Nexium, and cholesterol-buster Crestor, which is worth $6.6bn a year.

In the second quarter, a generic version of Seroquel hit the pharmacy shelves, accounting for 80 per cent of Astra's fall in US revenues, which were down 29 per cent in the three months to $2.3bn.

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