AstraZeneca said it expects profit growth to pick up this year after the Covid-19 vaccine developer beat forecasts for quarterly drug sales.

Demand for the company's cancer and other therapies cushioned the disruption caused by the pandemic. 

Last year was a crucial one for the Anglo-Swedish company. It teamed up with the University of Oxford to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, and struck its largest ever deal by buying US drugmaker Alexion. 

AstraZeneca said today it expects 2021 revenue to increase by a low teens percentage, with "faster growth" in core earnings to $4.75 to $5 a share. That translates to 18-24% growth in earnings, following 15% in 2020. 

The guidance was a little lower than the $5.10 per share analysts expect, according to Refinitiv Eikon data, but AstraZeneca shares rose 2% in early trade. 

The London-listed company said its forecast did not include any impact from its Covid-19 vaccine, adding it would report sales of the shot separately from the first quarter of 2021. It has pledged not to profit from the vaccine during the pandemic. 

Much is riding on the British-developed "vaccine for the world", since it is cheaper and can be distributed more easily than rivals from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. 

Pfizer last week said it expects $15 billion in sales from its vaccine this year. 

"With positive recommendations or approvals for the vaccine now received in over 50 countries, we're already helping to change the course of the pandemic," AstraZeneca's chief executive Pascal Soriot said. 

While public interest is largely on the vaccine, AstraZeneca's core business for diabetes, heart and kidney, and cancer medicines has proved resilient.

Fourth-quarter product sales, which exclude payments from tie-ups, surpassed a company-compiled consensus. Core profit of $1.07 per share for the three months ended December 31 was in line with estimates. 

Sales from AstraZeneca's best-selling drug Tagrisso soared 31%, slightly above expectations. 

"The company is arguably the poster child for big pharma turnarounds," said Third Bridge senior analyst Sebastian Skeet.