Pharma veteran named new CEO of AstraZeneca

Julian Harris
Follow Julian
ANGLO-SWEDISH giant AstraZeneca (AZ) yesterday revealed that it has poached Pascal Soriot from rival pharmaceuticals firm Roche.

Soriot will become AZ’s new chief executive on 1 October, replacing David Brennan who quit the role abruptly at the end of April this year after announcing a profit warning and weak quarterly results.

Shareholders had been agitating for a reshuffle of the firm’s board due to fears over its dwindling pipeline and a string of prospective new products that had failed to pass the late stages of regulatory tests.

Since Brennan stepped down, AZ has been under the interim leadership of chief financial officer Simon Lowth, who was believed to be in the running for the top job.

But yesterday the company confirmed that he will resume being CFO from October.

In a bid to revive its fortunes, AZ is instead turning to Soriot, who has worked in the pharmaceutical industry for over 25 years.

“He will be looking to make significant changes, including reviewing the pipeline and doing more deals,” said Cenkos Securities analyst Navid Malik.

“He’ll have to work fast because there’s an uphill struggle now to grow sales in the face of major patent losses.”

The firm’s sales fell 21 per cent in quarter two, it admitted last month.


The AstraZeneca board is hoping that Pascal Soriot’s wide experience of the pharmaceuticals industry and high-level involvement in mergers will turn around the behemoth’s fortunes. A couple of years ago Soriot held the top position at Genentech, a biologics firm based in San Francisco – precisely the kind of innovative business that big pharma companies are increasingly looking to acquire in order to plug holes in their pipelines. Patents are fast expiring for the industry’s giants, with AZ’s own loss of exclusivity on Seroquel causing a 15 per cent dip in sales in the second quarter of this year. So the headhunters tasked with delivering a new boss to AZ would have noted Soriot’s involvement in Genentech’s successful merger with Roche and strong leadership of the firm. Following the deal Soriot became chief operating officer at Roche, showing that he could cope with a top position at a multinational firm with 44,000 employees throughout the world. In his early 20s, Soriot became a vet, practicing in a suburb of Paris. Yet treating animals failed to satisfy his ambitions and while in the French capital he completed an MBA, majoring in finance. Before long he had moved into the sphere of treating humans, joining French pharma company Roussel Uclaf where he became a globe-trotter, taking up roles in Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Soriot is married with two children and one grandchild.