UPDATE 1-Drugmaker AstraZeneca forecasts faster return to growth

Ben Hirschler
Tuesday, 14 Jan 2014 | 3:23 AM ET

* Company sees 2017 revenue broadly in line with 2013

* Consensus forecast $22.5 bln in 2017 vs $25.8 bln in 2013

* Cancer immunotherapy combination data expected in 2014/15

* Shares in AstraZeneca rise 2 percent

(Adds detail on analyst forecasts for 2013 and 2017, further context)

LONDON, Jan 14 (Reuters) - AstraZeneca expects to return to growth faster than analysts currently predict after a wave of drug patent expiries, with 2017 revenue likely to be broadly in line with the 2013 level.

The forecast marks a bid by the drugmaker to call a bottom to a sales decline that is being driven by loss of exclusivity on top-selling medicines, including Nexium for excess stomach acid, which loses U.S. patent cover this year.

Shares in the group rose 2 percent on the news by 0810 GMT, against a 0.4 percent decline for the European healthcare sector .

Industry analysts currently expect Britain's second-biggest drugmaker to have 2017 revenue of $22.5 billion, down from $25.8 billion estimated for 2013, according to consensus forecasts compiled by Thomson Reuters.

Chief Executive Pascal Soriot will set out the new revenue guidance in a presentation at the J.P.Morgan Healthcare conference in San Francisco later on Tuesday and the company will give a more detailed update on its progress at full-year results on Feb. 6.

AstraZeneca has become more confident about its revenue outlook after a $4 billion deal to buy Bristol-Myers Squibb's share of a diabetes joint venture. That deal is expected to complete during the first quarter of 2014.

Soriot, who has been leading the company for a little more than a year, has been striking a number of bolt-on deals to refill the company's thin pipeline of new medicines and accelerating in-house research programmes.

The group now has 11 new-drug programmes in late-stage Phase III testing, almost double the number a year ago, and 27 in Phase II.

Hopes are particularly high for its cancer research, where it has started trials for immunotherapy combination treatments for which the first results are anticipated in 2014/15.

AstraZeneca is behind the likes of Bristol-Myers, Roche and Merck & Co in the race to develop immunotherapies - a hot new area of drug research - but it is betting on combination treatments to help it to catch up.

Immunotherapy treatments, which harness the body's immune system to fight cancer, have shown great promise in clinical trials and analysts believe that they may extend patients' lives significantly and generate tens of billions of dollars in annual sales.

(Editing by Mark Potter and David Goodman)

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