AstraZeneca grabs Roche pharma head as new CEO

Tue Aug 28, 2012 6:40am EDT
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By Ben Hirschler

(Reuters) - AstraZeneca Plc has poached Pascal Soriot from rival Roche Holding AG to be its new chief executive, hoping his experience with biotech drugs and dealmaking can revive a company battered by clinical trial failures and patent expiries.

Soriot, a 53-year-old French national, has been chief operating officer since 2010 of Roche's pharmaceuticals division - a business with a turnover of $34 billion, making it the same size as AstraZeneca.

He will take up his new job on October 1, AstraZeneca said on Tuesday.

Chairman Leif Johansson told Reuters this would allow him to take part in an important strategy review, which will be completed by the middle or end of the fourth quarter but will not change the group's progressive dividend policy.

Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca has been without a permanent CEO since June 1, following the abrupt departure of David Brennan, who was criticized by investors for failing to do enough to shore up the group as a wave of drug patents expired.

The appointment is a blow to Simon Lowth, the British-based company's chief financial officer and its interim CEO, who was also considered a candidate to take on the post permanently.

AstraZeneca said Lowth would resume his duties as finance chief and continue to serve as an executive director, although there is likely to be speculation over how long he will remain.

Navid Malik, an analyst at Cenkos Securities, said Soriot's arrival was good news for AstraZeneca and could signal a step change towards greater involvement in fast-growing biotech medicine.   Continued...

A worker leaves the AstraZeneca research facility in Loughborough, March 2, 2010. REUTERS/Darren Staples