AstraZeneca PLC

AstraZeneca PLC was formed in 1999 from the merger of AB Astra and Zeneca Group. The international pharmaceutical company manufacturers and markets a wide range of medications, including Prilosec, Nexium and Onglyza.

AstraZeneca History

Astra AB was founded in 1913 in Sodertalje, Sweden. Following World War I, Astra was acquired by a dyestuffs company called ASF. However, Astra continued to struggle for the next decade, and did not turn a profit until 1929.

Astra began its foray into independent research in the 1930s, developing a drug called Hepaforte, which treats people who are unable to absorb vitamin B12. Astra became Sweden’s dominant drug company in 1942, when it acquired rivals Tika Pharmaceuticals and Paul G. Nordstrom’s pharmaceutical factory. In 1948, Astra became an international force when it launched its blockbuster numbing agent Xylocaine (lidocaine). Xylocain would be approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) three years later.

By the 1970s, Astra was expanding worldwide, with subsidiaries in Europe, the U.S., South America and Australia. In the 1980s, the company began selling off other concerns in order to concentrate on pharmaceuticals.  The launch of its ulcer treatments in the late 1980s made Astra one of the world’s fastest-growing companies.

In 1998, Astra was merged with Zeneca Group. Zeneca was a much younger company, as it was the product of the 1993 demerger of London-based 1993 Imperial Chemical Industries. The new company, AstraZeneca, was the fourth-largest in the world when the merger completed, with a value of $67 billion. Both companies contributed blockbuster drugs to the new endeavor, including Astra’s Prilosec and Zeneca’s Nolvadex (tamoxifen) breast cancer treatment.

Some of AstraZeneca’s pharmaceutical products include drugs to treat Type 2 diabetes, such as Bydureon, Byetta, Farxiga, Kombiglyze XR, Onglyza and Xigduo. The company also markets the proton pump inhibitors Nexium and Prilosec, as well as a wide range of other prescription medications.

AstraZeneca Drug Controversies

In recent years a number of AstraZeneca medications have been named in FDA safety alerts. In 2016, the agency warned that Onglyza and Kombiglyze XR might be associated with an increased risk of heart failure. The previous year, the FDA issued an alert regarding the potential for SGLT2 inhibitors like Farxiga and Xigduo to cause diabetic ketoacidosis. Other complications that may be associated with this class of Type 2 diabetes drugs include serious urinary tract infections and kidney failure.

In 2016, several studies were published that linked long-term use of Nexium, Prilosec and other proton pump inhibitors to chronic kidney disease and renal failure. Other research has suggested that this popular class of heart burn drugs might be associated with an increased risk of dementia and heart attacks when used for an extended period of time.

  1. AstraZeneca (2013) “AstraZeneca’s History”
  2. FDA (2015) “Diabetes Medications Containing Saxagliptin and Alogliptin: Drug Safety Communication – Risk of Heart Failure”
  3. FDA (2015) “FDA Drug Safety Communication: FDA warns that SGLT2 inhibitors for diabetes may result in a serious condition of too much acid in the blood.”
  4. PLOS One (2015) “Proton Pump Inhibitor Usage and the Risk of Myocardial Infarction in the General Population”
  5. JAMA: Internal Medicine (2016) “Proton Pump Inhibitor Use and the Risk of Chronic Kidney Disease”
Last Modified: June 20, 2016

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