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AstraZeneca throws a monkey wrench in new GSK CEO’s first hiring decision, suing Luke Miels

Luke Miels

Back at the beginning of this year, one of Emma Walmsley’s first moves as incoming CEO of GlaxoSmithKline was to poach Luke Miels from AstraZeneca to head up the global pharmaceuticals business. Miels’ experience in pharma and his earlier role managing the portfolio and strategy at AstraZeneca, she said, gave him insights on R&D and the industry that would make him uniquely suited to the job.

Evidently, AstraZeneca believes he may be too suited to the job.

The pharma giant has now sued Miels in a UK Court, according to a report in Bloomberg. AstraZeneca alleges that Miels is in violation of his contract, but evidently didn’t specify which sections of the contract had been violated.

Emma Walmsley

In the meantime, Miels — four months after he accepted the new job — is now on “gardening leave.”

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot, who was himself poached from Roche for the top job, has watched a number of R&D execs leave the company over the past year without triggering a lawsuit.

A spokesperson for the company tells me via email:

Luke gave notice to terminate his employment with AstraZeneca in January 2017. In line with his contract and in view of the commercially competitive nature, Luke left his position with immediate effect and was placed on garden leave for the duration of his notice period. The suit seeks to confirm Luke is required to abide by the terms of his contract of employment.

Because this is an ongoing matter I can’t comment further.

GSK says it will be waiting for Miels with open arms, when the time arrives. Said a spokesperson:

“Luke is a very talented individual that we’ve appointed to lead our pharmaceuticals business. We look forward to welcoming him to GSK in due course.”

Walmsley, in the meantime, has had to deal with rebel investors and some great expectations about how she plans to make her stint at the top of the pharma giant a success. Neil Woodford, a longtime critic of the company’s unexciting pipeline, bolted days ago, saying he expected that GSK’s one vibrant arm, ViiV, was about to get hammered by a rival HIV drug from Gilead. The CEO in turn is reportedly prepping a buyout of Novartis’ portion of their JV on consumer health, a $10.3 billion wager.

Here’s what she had to say about Miels’ participation last January:

We are now entering a critical period of commercialisation for our new pharmaceutical products and, over the next two to three years, we have important data to come on our early-stage pipeline. Luke will bring a strong new voice to the decisions and choices we will have to make for our Pharmaceuticals business. I am delighted he has agreed to join GSK and look forward to welcoming him to the executive team.

That welcoming party will have to wait for now.


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RAPS Regulatory Convergence 2017