AstraZeneca's top-selling stomach ulcer and acid reflux drug Nexium faces early generic competition in Denmark, where Novartis unit Sandoz launched a cheap copycat version this week.
An AstraZeneca spokesman said on Thursday the group was aware of the launch, adding that authorisations for generic forms of the medicine had also been granted in Ireland, Portugal, Austria, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland and Slovenia.
In major European countries, however, the product is still protected by market exclusivity that only expires in March 2010, he added.
The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker has not changed its financial outlook for 2009 as a result of the news and is investigating possible legal action if generics breach any of its patents, which have expiration dates from 2009 to 2018.
Analysts at Morgan Stanley said the early generic launch was a psychological blow, though sales in selected smaller markets would affect near-term earnings forecasts by less than 1 percent.
In fact, they see a high probability that AstraZeneca will upgrade its 2009 earnings guidance at second-quarter results in July, due to higher-than-expected sales of heart drug Toprol XL in the United States.
AstraZeneca has the greatest exposure of any European drug company to patent expiries in the coming years, with around a third of current sales set to face generic competition by 2013.
But it is starting to make promising progress on its pipeline of new drugs, with a number of potential blockbusters now in late-stage development. (Reuters)