New CEO For AstraZeneca

Published in Company Comment on 28 August 2012

... while approval is given for the pharma to market new antibiotic.

This morning, AstraZeneca (LSE: AZN) (NYSE: AZN.US) announced the appointment of new chief executive officer, Pascal Soriot, who will take the reins on 1 October 2012. He will join from Swiss giant Roche (OTC: RHHBY.PK), where he has been chief operating officer of its pharmaceutical division since 2010.

Prior to Roche, Soriot was CEO of Genentech, where he led the merger between the San Francisco-based biologics business and Roche. In a career within the pharmaceutical industry spanning over a quarter of a century, he has worked in senior management roles in the US, Asia and Europe.

Soriot will replace Simon Lowth, who has been serving as Astra's interim CEO since David Brennan was ousted in the shareholder spring. Lowth will resume his responsibilities as chief financial officer upon Soriot's arrival, and will continue to serve as executive director on the board, where he will also be joined by Soriot as a second executive.

On the news of his appointment, Soriot said: "I am excited and honoured to have been asked to lead AstraZeneca. No one is blind to the challenges that confront the pharmaceutical sector and this company, but the underlying strengths of AstraZeneca in delivering on its strategy are clear. AstraZeneca will continue to make a positive difference to patients over the longer term and I'm looking forward to playing my part in shaping that future."

Chairman Leif Johansson commented: "This is a key appointment at an important time for AstraZeneca and we are certain that Pascal's leadership qualities combined with his strategic thinking and relevant experience make him the right person to drive the company to success over the coming years. I am confident that Pascal's approach and his track record of delivering results in innovation-driven businesses will be valued by shareholders and employees alike.

"The Board would like to record its appreciation for the excellent job done by Simon Lowth as interim CEO and his impressive leadership in this period. Supported by a highly capable and committed executive team, Simon has maintained the organisation's focus on key business priorities during a period of significant change for the company."

A further boost

In further news released this morning, Astra announced that the European Commission (EC) has granted marketing authorisation for its new product Zinforo, an intravenous cephalosporin antibiotic for the treatment of adult patients with complicated skin and soft tissue infections or community-acquired pneumonia.

Zinforo is the only approved cephalosporin monotherapy in Europe with demonstrated clinical efficacy against superbug MRSA. It has been found to have been particularly effective in vunerable patient groups, for instance the elderly. 

Martin Mackay, president of research and development, said: "We are delighted that Zinforo has received regulatory approval across Europe and believe it will make a valuable contribution to addressing the significant unmet need for new antibiotics. This is a key step in making Zinforo more widely available to patients across the globe and we will work with the appropriate health authorities, formulary and protocol reviews, and clinicians to bring this new antibiotic to patients as soon as possible."

Both sets of news are positive for Astra, whose 'patent cliff' problems have been well documented. The announcement of a new CEO with plenty of experience in the pharmaceutical sector who has been brought in to guide the company through this time, as well as the EC's approval of a new market-leading product, will be a boost to Astra's shareholders and give them confidence in the pharma's future.

Another win for the City's super-investor?

AstraZeneca is a firm favourite of super-investor Neil Woodford, head of investments at Invesco Perpetual and one of the smartest blue-chip investors in the City. He held Astra's shares when others were selling, and on the basis of today's news, it looks like a smart move.

Mr Woodford's other favourite holdings -- and the investing logic behind them -- are profiled in "8 Large-Cap Income Shares Held By Britain's Super Investor", a special report that is exclusive to The Motley Fool.

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> Sam does not own any of the shares mentioned in this article.

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