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Google’s Healthcare Entrance Makes Me Bullish On AstraZeneca plc

AstraZeneca (LSE: AZN) (NYSE: AZN.US) has received significant amounts of criticism in recent years from investors.

Indeed, its inability to tackle the ‘patent cliff’ made the market de-rate shares downwards, leaving AstraZeneca shareholders with little to shout about.

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Previous management, meanwhile, did little to allay fears that the company would see vastly reduced revenue and profitability, with there being apparently little or nothing they could do about it.

However, such views now seem to be moderating somewhat and the news that Google is set to enter the healthcare industry should, in my view, help to show that AstraZeneca has a great deal to offer.

Indeed, Google recently unveiled the venture, called Calico, with the aim of attacking some of the most difficult scientific problems in diseases related to ageing. Although Google was not specific in exactly how it would go about achieving this aim, its investment will be sufficient to build research and development capabilities in a number of areas.

This got me thinking about the position that AstraZeneca finds itself in and, in fact, the news made me want to buy more shares in the FTSE 100 company for three reasons.

Firstly, AstraZeneca is already in a strong position in terms of its research and development capabilities.

Certainly, the company has not been as successful as investors had hoped in developing new treatments to replace ones coming off patent in recent years. However, the capacity exists to develop a strong pipeline of products, something that only a relatively small number of pharmaceutical companies across the world could compete with.

Secondly, as has been the case this year, AstraZeneca has the financial muscle to make up for lost time in terms of its research and development progress. In other words, it is able to buy smaller pharmaceutical companies that have attractive product pipelines to compensate for its lack of potential new treatments.

Although growth through acquisition may not be as preferable as organic growth, AstraZeneca’s balance sheet contains only moderate debt and, as such, can be further leveraged to grow the top and bottom lines.

Thirdly, AstraZeneca remains a great income stock. It currently yields an impressive 5.5%, with dividends being covered 2.3 times, meaning that even if profits were to fall significantly the dividend should still be at least maintained.

So, the news that Google is set to enter the healthcare market has made me realise that the research capabilities, financial firepower and yield of AstraZeneca make the FTSE 100 member worth buying.

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Peter owns shares in AstraZeneca. The Motley Fool owns shares in Google.