AstraZeneca shares are sliding on rumours its chief executive is leaving

Emma Haslett
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AstraZeneca And Pfizer Chief Executive's Give Evidence To Select Committee
Soriot led AstraZeneca through an aggressive takeover approach from Pfizer in 2014 (Source: Getty)

Shares in pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca slid in morning trading after reports suggested its chief executive is planning to move to an Israeli rival.

Shares in Astra were down five per cent at 4,933p in the first hour of trading in London, after Israeli website Calcalist said Pascal Soriot was close to being poached by Teva.

The report suggested Soriot had met with Teva's search committee and chairman and had said he hoped to take on the job. Should he accept the offer, Soriot is thought to have been offered a $20m (£15.5m) signing bonus.

Soriot was the target of a shareholder revolt in April, when nearly 40 per cent of investors voted against Astra's remuneration report.

"Coupled with heightened UK scrutiny of chief executive pay and the rebellion against the last Astra remuneration report, [the signing bonus] could be a likely a factor behind any departure in our view," said Roger Franklin, an analyst at Liberum.

"Soriot is a quality chief executive who has delivered a 40 per cent increase in the dollar share price (outperforming EU pharma) and his departure would not be a positive depending of course on the identity of any replacement."

Astra-Pfizer deal

Back in 2014 Soriot led the Anglo-Swedish through an aggressive £70bn takeover approach from US rival Pfizer. Astra narrowly won that battle after Soriot assured investors the company will deliver $45bn of annual revenues by 2023.

Analysts expressed doubts about Soriot's goals, particularly given Astra was close to losing patent protection on some of its best-selling drugs, including heartburn treatment Nexium. However, in May this year shares jumped as Astra announced a successful trial of late-stage lung cancer drug durvalumab, otherwise known as Mystic, suggesting its research and development pipeline is looking healthier.

Today a spokesperson for AstraZeneca said the company does not respond to market speculation.

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