June 24, 2015 / 7:23 AM / 3 years ago

AstraZeneca loses second top executive as Vectura gets new CEO

The logo of AstraZeneca is seen on a medication package in a pharmacy in London April 28, 2014. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

LONDON (Reuters) - AstraZeneca has lost a second senior executive in a fortnight with the departure of its respiratory and inflammatory medicines head James Ward-Lilley to become chief executive of lung drug specialist Vectura.

His departure follows the exit earlier this month of Briggs Morrison, AstraZeneca’s former chief medical officer and head of late-stage drug development, who moved on to become CEO of privately owned cancer drug firm Syndax.

An AstraZeneca spokeswoman said on Wednesday that the timing of the departures was “pure coincidence” and both men were moving on to new and different types of challenges as business leaders.

Vectura said Ward-Lilley would become CEO effective Oct. 1, replacing Chris Blackwell, whose departure had already been announced and who will leave the small drug company at the end of this month.

The move is a blow to AstraZeneca, which has identified respiratory medicine as one of its six growth businesses, alongside oncology, diabetes, the heart drug Brilinta, emerging markets and Japan.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot, who took over in 2012 and successfully fought off a $118 billion takeover attempt by Pfizer last year, has sought to bolster the company’s respiratory franchise.

The drugmaker already boasts an established blockbuster in its inhaled treatment Symbicort, for asthma and chronic lung disease, and Soriot plans to build on that after buying Pearl Therapeutics in 2013 and Almirall’s lung drug business in 2014.

Vectura, whose shares traded 1 percent higher by mid-morning, said Trevor Phillips would act as interim CEO from the end of June until Ward-Lilley joined the company.

Additional reporting by Roshni Menon in Bengaluru; Editing by Pravin Char

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