AstraZeneca Shakes Up Senior Roles Before Alexion Takeover

AstraZeneca Plc appointed Aradhana Sarin as chief financial officer to replace Marc Dunoyer, who will become chief executive officer of the company’s Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc. arm when the takeover is completed later this year.

Dunoyer, 68, will take on an additional new role as chief strategy officer at Astra, and will step down from its board, the U.K. drugmaker said in a statement Friday. The moves will take effect on Aug. 1 or the date the deal closes -- whichever is later.

In moves that could form part of the company’s wider succession planning, Sarin, currently Alexion’s CFO, will relocate from the U.S. to the U.K. She will also become an executive director, bolstering the number of women on the 12-seat board to five. Dunoyer and Sarin will report directly to CEO Pascal Soriot. Dunoyer will be responsible for developing Alexion’s strategic direction and sharing Alexion’s expertise across the Astra group.

The $39 billion acquisition of rare-disease specialist Alexion was first announced in December, taking some investors by surprise as it came in the midst of Astra’s efforts to launch its Covid-19 vaccine. With very little crossover in portfolios, it moves Astra into a lucrative new area of medicine. The purchase of the U.S. biotech marks the largest transaction for Astra since it was founded in a 1999 combination of British and Swedish firms and entrenches its position among the world’s 10 biggest drugmakers.

Astra’s shares, which were little changed Friday, have more than doubled since Soriot took over in 2012. Under his leadership, the company has gone from a patent cliff-edge to an oncology powerhouse.

The company published data on Thursday that showed Lynparza, one of its key cancer drugs co-developed with Merck & Co., has shown success in early stage breast cancer treatment, reducing recurrence rates, second cancers or death by 42% for patients with the BRCA genetic mutation. The development could add $1 billion in sales for the companies, according to Sam Fazeli, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst.

Further successes in its oncology portfolio will be a welcome development for Astra after a difficult year developing the Covid-19 vaccine with the University of Oxford. Despite providing the shot at no profit, the company has come under fire for trial missteps, supply shortages and poor communication. Astra is currently being sued by the European Union for failing to deliver the agreed number of doses this year.

With the Alexion takeover nearing completion and the initial stages of the vaccine rollout complete, questions have been raised over how long Soriot will remain at the helm. Soriot told the Financial Times last month that board planning was underway for future leadership changes and he, Chairman Leif Johansson and Dunoyer had agreed on a sequence for retiring.

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