AstraZeneca begins succession planning for CEO Soriot: report

AstraZeneca has started looking for candidates to succeed CEO Pascal Soriot amid pressure from shareholders, reported the Sunday Times without citing sources. According to the report, Soriot is not expected to leave immediately. However, rather than conduct a formal search, the company has asked that a list of internal candidates be drawn up, with the newspaper naming Menelas Pangalos, who heads AstraZeneca's Innovative Medicines and Early Development Biotech unit, and Ruud Dobber, president of the company's US operations, as potential successors. The Times said investors are also pushing AstraZeneca to find a replacement for chief financial officer Marc Dunoyer.

The report follows the company's recent disclosure of more disappointing results from the Phase III MYSTIC study. In data released last week, AstraZeneca said its PD-L1 inhibitor Imfinzi (durvalumab) as monotherapy and in combination with the anti-CTLA4 antibody tremelimumab, failed to significantly improve overall survival versus standard chemotherapy in previously-untreated patients with Stage IV non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Still, AstraZeneca suggested that the data "support further analysis in exploratory subgroups." For more insight on the latest results, see ViewPoints: No upside surprise from MYSTIC; AstraZeneca to accelerate its earlier stage focus?  

Soriot had continued to defend the therapy after initial results from the trial released last year indicated that Imfinzi plus tremelimumab had failed to significantly extend progression-free survival. Nevertheless, Bloomberg analysts expect Imfinzi will generate more than $2.5 billion in annual sales from 2022, while the drug is also being tested in a range of Phase III studies for Stage IV NSCLC, including the PEARL, NEPTUNE and POSEIDON trials. Meanwhile, Soriot has also fended off criticism for spurning Pfizer's hostile $117-billion takeover bid for AstraZeneca four years ago.

Last year, Soriot was rumoured to possibly be heading to Teva as CEO. He declined to comment directly on the matter, but later issued an internal memo to staff calling on them to remain focused on AstraZeneca's goals. Soriot, who was appointed CEO at AstraZeneca in 2012, also faced criticism from shareholders last year over his compensation. In 2016, AstraZeneca said it was looking at ways to more closely link the chief executive's pay to the company's target of generating sales of $45 billion by 2023. 

In more recent news, AstraZeneca agreed last week to divest US rights to the respiratory syncytial virus treatment Synagis (palivizumab) to Swedish Orphan Biovitrum (Sobi) for $1.5 billion upfront, a move that will also see the transfer of 130 AstraZeneca employees to Sobi (for additional analysis, see ViewPoints: AstraZeneca cuts out more deadwood). Meanwhile, AstraZeneca also recently acquired a 9.8-percent stake in Innate Pharma as part of a new agreement focused on oncology drug development. 

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