AstraZeneca CEO gets two cheers after first year in job

Mon Sep 30, 2013 10:16am EDT
 
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By Ben Hirschler

LONDON (Reuters) - Fixing ailing drugmaker AstraZeneca remains a work in progress for Chief Executive Pascal Soriot, with sales and profits still heading firmly downhill after his first year in the job.

Yet confidence is slowly building that he may have the right long-term prescription for the British group, helped by some lessons learnt at his past employer Roche.

Soriot has shunned a big acquisition as a way to plug the deep revenue gap left by multiple patent expiries, opting instead for a string of smaller deals, a reboot of the drug pipeline and a shake-out of top management.

His goal of "achieving scientific leadership" may fall short on the kind of hard financial targets that some investors would like, but it has resonated with many younger researchers who felt the group was drifting, following past R&D setbacks. It has already accelerated work on several promising cancer drugs.

"When I talk to people in the industry about AstraZeneca, it is a place where people now want to go and work - and that hasn't been true for about 10 or 15 years," said Dan Mahony, a fund manager at Polar Capital, who has raised his stake in the company in the past year.

Reversing AstraZeneca's poor record in drug research is Soriot's top priority, so staff morale matters. Rival executives say he is borrowing some ideas from Switzerland's Roche.

Roche - particularly its Genentech biotech unit, which Soriot used to head - is renowned for its R&D successes, something Soriot hopes to replicate with a $500 million move of AstraZeneca operations to Cambridge, a British science hub.

"I see him implementing some of the same strategies that have been adopted by Roche, in terms of focusing on highly innovative products and taking risks," said one senior Roche insider.   Continued...

 
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of AstraZeneca, Pascal Soriot, poses for a photograph in this undated picture provided by AstraZeneca in London on March 12, 2013. REUTERS/Marcus Lyon/AstraZeneca/Handout/Files