In need of the right prescription

Elizabeth Fournier
ASTRAZENECA’S new chief exec Pascal Soriot may have only been in the hot seat for six months, but he’s already had something of a bumpy ride.

After last month admitting the firm would cut a tenth of its workforce over the next three years, yesterday he had to tell investors that patent expirations had hit first quarter sales hard and dragged operating profits down by 21 per cent – a day after huge rival GlaxoSmithKline said its own earnings were flat.

In Glaxo chief executive Sir Andrew Witty, Soriot has a formidable opponent with a great record. Promoted to CEO in 2008 after a career at his firm, Witty has spent the last five years shaking up its drug division and transforming the firm into much leaner machine.

As well as the prospective £1bn-plus he could net from the sale of Lucozade, Ribena and a portfolio of off-patent drugs, Sir Andrew also has an impressive pipeline of potential big-hitters coming through, including recently approved smokers’ cough treatment Breo.

Soriot, meanwhile, seems to have little beyond Brilinta – a recently launched cardiovascular drug that analysts call his great white hope.

Though Brilinta sales grew from $38m last quarter to $51m in the last three months, it’s hardly generating revenues to crow about yet.

Soriot has experience – he knows the industry inside out after years at Roche and Aventis – and his early drive to shake things up will have investors hoping he’s already showing signs of Witty’s famously focused approach.

But AstraZeneca’s boss will be praying for breathing room to prove to shareholders that he can deliver a similar turnaround. For now, they should give him some.