By Pushkala Aripaka and Ankur Banerjee
(Reuters) - British drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc on Friday reported first-quarter product sales and earnings ahead of analysts' expectations, benefiting from its aggressive push into cancer drugs and a focus on emerging markets, including China.
The company had in February reported annual sales growth for the first time since 2009, turning around its business after a series of patent losses. It has since agreed a multi-billion dollar oncology deal with Japan's Daiichi Sankyo Co Ltd.
Chief Executive Pascal Soriot's push to re-charge the company and bolster future sales largely hinges on cancer treatments. AstraZeneca has faced a massive loss of patents on older drugs since 2012, leading to crumbling sales.
In the first quarter, sales from the company's oncology unit rose 59 percent to $1.89 billion, accounting for 35 percent of total product sales.
"We're reaching that point where after years of having to keep faith, we have actually got something tangible to believe in," Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Nicholas Hyett said.
AstraZeneca also backed its annual sales and earnings forecast and said it has extensively prepared for UK's anticipated exit from the European Union, even in the event of a no-deal exit.
The company's shares were up nearly 1 percent at 5,947 pence in early London trading.
The company has already spent more than 40 million pounds ($52 million) on Brexit preparations, including stockpiling six weeks' worth of drugs in the UK and four weeks in continental Europe to protect itself from medicine shortages.
AstraZeneca said product sales rose 14 percent at constant currency to $5.47 billion in the quarter, led by its lung cancer drug Tagrisso and respiratory treatment Pulmicort.
China, which accounts for nearly a quarter of sales, was again a bright spot, with sales increasing by 28 percent to $1.24 billion in the quarter.
AstraZeneca is one of the major drugmakers focusing on maintaining a presence in China largely due to regulatory reforms to fast-track new drugs in the country.
Core earnings came in at 89 cents per share in the quarter.
Analysts on average were expecting core earnings of 85 cents per share and product sales of $5.29 billion, according to a company provided consensus of 19 analysts.
Graphic: AstraZeneca banking on oncology (https://tmsnrt.rs/2W7g595)
Graphic: AstraZeneca's oncology progression (https://tmsnrt.rs/2W5KGDO)
(Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka and Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr/Keith Weir)