Worse, Astra had failed to find replacements, after suffering a string of setbacks with its pipeline of antidepressants, and medicines for diabetes and ovarian cancer. Sales had fallen by a painful 2bn in 2011.
The collapsingshare price had left the dividend yield nudging a juicy 6%, butgrowth prospects remainedperilous.
Cliff Edge Stuff
As last weeks Q1 results demonstrate, Soriot is safelysteering Astra away from that cliff. Some drugs have inevitably crashed over the edge, notably heartburn blockbuster Nexium, where sales fell 3%, but there have been compensations such as new post-heart attack drug Brilinta, wheresales leapt45%.
AstraZeneca isnt quite ready to burst into life, with Q1 core operating profit down4% to 1.8bn. But that was partly due to currency headwinds: it isstill up 15% on one year ago.
Soriot remains confident that sales will begin to climb steadily from 2017, when the drugs pipeline starts to flow once more, replenishing dwindling sales from old reliableblockbusters.
Thanks to a series of collaborations and joint projects, it now has 119 drugs in the clinical pipeline.
And unlike AstraZeneca and fellow pharmaceutical company Shire, investors didnt even have takeover speculation to feed on.
But this is the company I named as my top stock for 2015 because I felt it had serious recovery potential. It has made steady progress since rising 10% year-to-date, marginally ahead of the FTSE 100 at 7.5%.
Glaxo is also menaced by that patent cliff as falling sales of respiratory drug Advair hit revenues, andit battles against pricing pressures in the US and generic competition in Europe.
While cutting costs will save 1 billion over three years, what Glaxo really needs aresolid new sources of revenue.
Everythings Gone Green
Markets have responded warmly to its joint venture with Swiss drugmaker Novartis, which should reduce its reliance on blockbuster drugs, but that wont show results until 2017 either.
Glaxo can boast 40 new projects in late stage development butagain, investors will have to be patient.
The new seasongrowth shouldeventually come, but it wont come inspring 2015 or 2016. But at least you can seedyour portfolio with Astras 3.62% yield and Glaxos 5.25% while you wait for the stocks to burst forth.
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Harvey Jones has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has recommended GlaxoSmithKline. We Fools don’t all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.