The British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant, under the direction of its CEO Pascal Soriot, has spent the better part of a decade rebuilding a powerful research and development operation that is now one of the most efficient and successful in the industry. The company also boasts one of Big Pharma’s most promising pipelines of new drugs, with a particular strength in oncology, where it has invested in a string of highly-targeted cancer treatments. It also has divisions focused on cardiovascular and renal disease and respiratory medicine. Those new medicines haven’t come cheap though, and the company’s weak free cashflow has been a perennial concern among investors. Many analyst suspect a quest for cash was a prime motivator behind AstraZeneca’s December 2019 announcement that it was buying Boston-based Alexion, a leader in medicines for certain rare diseases, in a $39 billion cash-and-stock deal, one of the industry’s largest recent M&A transactions. AstraZeneca jumped out to an early lead to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 through a partnership with the University of Oxford, but missteps during clinical trials set back its effort. The company’s vaccine is still considered critical to ending the pandemic: Its low-cost and ability to be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures makes it well-suited for lower income countries.
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