A New CEO for AstraZeneca

LONDON -- This morning, AstraZeneca (LSE: AZN.L  ) (NYSE: AZN  ) announced the appointment of a new CEO, Pascal Soriot, who will take the reins on Oct. 1. He will join from Swiss giant Roche, where he has been CEO 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 more than a quarter of a century, he has worked in senior management roles in the U.S., 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 organization's focus on key business priorities during a period of significant change for the company.

A further boost
In other news released this morning, Astra announced that the European Commission has granted marketing authorization 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 vulnerable patient groups, e.g., 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 to guide the company through this time, along with the EC's approval of a new market-leading product, will benefit Astra's shareholders and give them confidence in the pharma's future.

Another win for the City's super-investor?
AstraZeneca is a favorite 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.

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