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Last Updated: Friday, 24 October, 2003, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
AstraZeneca defends its new bestseller
Crestor website image
The marketing budget for Crestor could reach $1bn
Anglo-Swedish drug giant AstraZeneca has hit back at claims its latest cholesterol lowering drug has been launched on the basis of as-yet-incomplete research findings.

AstraZeneca's Crestor, which is seen as crucial for the drugs firm's revival, "has an inferior evidence base supporting its safe use" when compared to its competitors, according to the UK medical magazine The Lancet.

"Since there are no reliable data about [Crestor's] efficacy and safety... doctors should pause before prescribing this drug," The Lancet said in this month's editorial.

But the claim has angered the drugs company, which is standing by Crestor.

'Safe drug'

"I deplore the fact that a respected scientific journal like The Lancet should make such an outrageous critique of a serious, well studied and important medicine," chief executive Sir Tom McKillop said in an open letter to the magazine's editor.

Thirty regulatory authorities worldwide have approved Crestor so far, including the one in the world's largest drugs market the US, and more approvals are pending, the company said.

"We're pretty confident it is a safe drug. We know it is a safe drug," added chief financial officer John Symonds in an interview with BBC World Business Report.

The Lancet's editorial implied that AstraZeneca had been spurred on by falling profits, and that this was the reason why Crestor was being marketed "too hard and too fast".

"AstraZeneca predicts that it can take a 20% share" of an $8bn (4.7bn) market currently dominated by its competitor Pfizer's Liptor, says The Lancet.

Major contributor

According to the magazine, AstraZeneca needs to eat into this market to recover from falling profits and flat sales of its ulcer pill Prilosec which is facing stiff competition from generic drugs.

When The Lancet's editorial was written, AstraZeneca's latest financial figures had been disappointing, its profits falling fast.

But on Thursday this week the drugs firm reported a reversal of its fortunes with a rise in pretax profits to $1.11bn, up from $923m during the same period earlier.

The recently launched Crestor was a contributor to this rise, having already gained a 2% market share, and analysts expect the drug to bring in $3bn worth of sales a year.

AstraZeneca chief financial officer John Symons
"We're pretty confident it is a safe drug."

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