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Pascal Soriot is staying at AstraZeneca after all, confirming upcoming presentation – reports

AstraZeneca has stayed mum for two long days filled with an intense round of rumors and speculation over the future of their CEO, Pascal Soriot. But the latest report out of London is that Soriot has decided to stay with the pharma giant after all, forgoing a reported offer of a $20 million bonus and a chance to reorganize a troubled Teva. And the company, while staying silent on the story, is confirming plans for Soriot to make a key presentation in about two weeks.

The latest news was broken by Bloomberg Friday afternoon but didn’t hit the Internet immediately. StreetInsider cited the report in a brief, saying that Soriot “is currently planning to stay for the foreseeable future, according to Bloomberg, citing people with knowledge of the matter.”

AstraZeneca investors quickly bid up shares in the pharma giant by more than 4% as news of the CEO’s plans to stay spread Friday, replacing the billions lost earlier as the market managed to overcome a bad case of nerves spurred by thoughts that an exit by Soriot at this stage implied bad news for the crucial MYSTIC study for durvalumab and tremelimumab. That Phase III data is due any day now.

Officially, AstraZeneca is maintaining the same position it has held for the past two days. In response to a query of mine, a spokesperson for AstraZeneca responded: “Regarding the Teva rumours still the same, we don’t comment on speculation.”

But the company did follow up with a timely note on an upcoming review of AstraZeneca’s H1 results, for July 27, close to two weeks from now, with a presentation by Soriot. Insiders are also telling the Financial Times that it’s business as usual at AstraZeneca.

There’s been plenty of time to chatter about all kinds of possibilities in the time since Calcalist first reported that Soriot was in the final stages of hammering out a contract. One of the latest discussions centered on the possibility that Pfizer might make a renewed bid if Soriot was gone, leaving the door open to a deal that he spurned three years ago.

That evidently won’t be happening, either.

Teva Chairman Sol Barer has made it clear that finding a credible new CEO to lead the company at a time generic pricing has eroded and its pipeline remains weak is a crucial task. Now he’ll be expected to go back and find someone else to fill the position — the fourth CEO in as many years. Teva’s shares plunged 4% as the market clawed back gains from the last two days.

Soriot is left in a difficult spot, still working on a turnaround as revenue slides into a trough and the pipeline proves far less effective than the CEO had promised.

One key arena, oncology, has delivered some solid gains with drugs like Lynparza and Tagrisso and possibly Imfinzi (durvalumab). But the big R&D catalyst this year centers on AstraZeneca’s questionable MYSTIC study, combining durvalumab and tremelimumab, with plenty of deep seated fears about the outcome. AstraZeneca had to settle for a fifth place finish among the checkpoint contenders as it centered its plans around Soriot’s strategy of delivering combinations that could leapfrog the leaders in the field.

That strategy is far from being executed on. And other elements in the pipeline have been sore disappointments. AstraZeneca has experienced major setbacks on a score of big projects.

  • Brilinta was supposed to be the unpolished jewel in AstraZeneca’s crown. It’s been a major disappointment.
  • Selumetinib has been a flop, failing back-to-back Phase III studies.
  • There was a Phase III miss for tralokinumab in asthma.
  • ZS-9 was kicked back by regulators twice for manufacturing reasons, giving a rival time to regroup and solidify its position in the market.
  • The company has quietly and steadily pulled out of antibiotics.
  • A whole series of drugs — in addition to antibiotics — have been sold off to supply some fast revenue in place of what had been big peak sales forecasts, among them brodalumab.

Most of that laundry list of setbacks was racked up in the last year.

All these problematic drugs were intended to play a big role in doubling AstraZeneca’s $23 billion in 2016 revenue. Keeping that promise by 2023, which Soriot used to win over investors and reject Pfizer’s bid for the company in 2014, has been an increasingly unlikely prospect.

When Soriot arrived at AstraZeneca, he made a great show of announcing plans for a big new campus in Cambridge, UK. Now that project, like so many things about AstraZeneca, is unfinished, behind schedule and way over budget. He was supposed to have that done in 2016.

Now Soriot will reportedly be staying for the foreseeable future, to see if he can get this right.


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