July 14, 2017 / 10:16 AM / in 4 months

AstraZeneca says CEO Pascal Soriot will host earnings call

LONDON (Reuters) - Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca (AZN.L) said on Friday its chief executive, Pascal Soriot, would host a results call with reporters on July 27, after refusing to comment on speculation this week that he was leaving the firm.

A sign is seen at an AstraZeneca site in Macclesfield, central England May 19, 2014. Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron said the government would continue to talk to both Pfizer and AstraZeneca after the British drugmaker on Monday rejected a sweetened offer from the U.S. company. REUTERS/Phil Noble (BRITAIN - Tags: BUSINESS HEALTH) - RTR3PT61

An report on Wednesday on Israeli financial news website Calcalist said Soriot was in talks to join Israel’s Teva Pharmaceutical Industries (TEVA.TA), the world’s biggest generic drugmaker.

Shares in AstraZeneca fell on Thursday and Friday following the report as the company stuck to its policy of not commenting on market rumor or speculation.

The cost of two days of silence in terms of the company’s market capitalization was more than 3 billion pounds ($3.9 billion).

An invitation sent to reporters after the market had closed on Friday said Soriot would be hosting the usual financial results call on July 27.

“You are invited to participate in a media teleconference hosted by Pascal Soriot, CEO, to discuss the results,” it said.

AstraZeneca shares lost 3.5 percent on Thursday and fell further on Friday to close at 48.75 pounds.

The timing of the news report alarmed investors, coming as the company waits for all-important data from a lung cancer drug trial which is seen as a game-changer for Astra.

The company is hoping to secure a substantial slice of a multibillion-dollar market by proving its combination of two immunotherapy drugs, durvalumab and tremelimumab, can help previously untreated patients with advanced lung cancer.

The results of the major trial, called MYSTIC, are due any day now.

One top 20 shareholder said there had been a “newsflow vacuum”.

“It’s hard because companies cannot be seen to be responding to every newspaper article because once you start you cannot stop. But as we all agree, if true, then timing is ‘interesting’,” the shareholder said, on condition of anonymity.

Moving to a generics drugmaker would be a big change in direction for French-born Soriot, 58, who made research-based pharmaceuticals his whole drive at AstraZeneca.

Analysts at Leerink, an investment bank that specializes in healthcare, said Soriot’s exit would come as a major surprise, if true, and leave AstraZeneca rudderless at a key time.

“We spoke with the company, who simply stated that it does not comment on rumors; however it did not outright deny the report,” they said. “If true, the optics around his departure would be terrible ahead of the MYSTIC readout.”

AstraZeneca has already been shaken by the departure of the head of its European business, Luke Miels, who defected to rival GlaxoSmithKline GSK., and there have been a number of other senior management departures.

During his five years at AstraZeneca, Soriot successfully defended the company against a $118 billion takeover approach from Pfizer (PFE.N).

He also rebuilt AstraZeneca’s drugs pipeline through research and acquisitions to replace revenue lost from a wave of patent expiries on many of its blockbuster medicines.

The Calcalist report said Soriot had met Teva’s search committee and its chairman to express his agreement to serve as its next CEO.

It said he was expected to earn twice as much as former boss Erez Vigodman and receive a signing bonus estimated at about $20 million. It said the financial terms were still being discussed.

($1 = 0.7717 pounds)

Reporting by Kate Holton, Simon Jessop and Paul Sandle; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Robin Pomeroy

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