AstraZeneca Has Started Succession Planning for Soriot, Times Says

(Bloomberg) -- AstraZeneca Plc has started scouting for candidates to replace Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot six years into his tenure at the helm following pressure from shareholders, the Sunday Times reported, without saying where it got the information.

Soriot, 59, isn’t expected to leave immediately, and headhunters have been asked to draw up a list of internal candidates rather than conduct a formal search, the newspaper said. Meanwhile, investors are also urging AstraZeneca to identify a successor to Chief Financial Officer Marc Dunoyer, the Times said.

Potential candidates for the CEO’s role could include senior executives Mene Pangalos and Ruud Dobber, the newspaper said.

AstraZeneca said last week one of its key new drugs, Imfinzi, failed to prolong the lives of patients with advanced lung tumors when it was used alone or in combination with another treatment, in comparison to the standard therapy. Soriot had continued to defend the therapy after it failed in a key analysis last year, even as he fended off criticism for rejecting Pfizer Inc.’s $117 billion takeover bid more than four years ago.

Had the trial succeeded, Imfinzi would likely have become the Cambridge, England-based company’s bestselling medicine. Still, the treatment is expected to generate more than $2.5 billion in annual sales from 2022, according to estimates compiled by Bloomberg. The drug has already shown utility in earlier-stage lung cancer that can’t be removed with surgery, and AstraZeneca is now looking to further studies that may support other uses.

While AstraZeneca shares have more than doubled since the Frenchman took over, the therapy’s failure in treating late-stage cancer patients -- among other setbacks suffered by the U.K.’s second-largest drugmaker -- appeared to put the at least $40 billion in sales that Soriot had promised to achieve by 2023 further out of reach.

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