AstraZeneca's New Boss Shakes Things Up

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LONDON -- AstraZeneca (LSE: AZN  ) (NYSE: AZN  ) , the U.K.-based pharmaceutical giant, is currently beset by two main problems.

First, its "blockbuster" treatments are steadily losing the patent protection that guaranteed high revenues. Indeed, its two biggest-selling products -- Nexium for treating stomach acid and Crestor for treating cholesterol -- will lose their U.S. patent protection during 2014 and 2016, respectively.

And second, its pipeline of new products is looking dangerously empty.

New chief executive Pascal Soriot -- who joined AstraZeneca only at the beginning of October -- yesterday culled two senior executive positions in a bid to counter those two problems by improving the group's decision-making.

Soriot seems keen to remove superfluous layers of management and to give a more prominent role to R&D staff, who ultimately create the products that generate the company's long-term revenue.

So, out go Martin Mackay, president of research and development, and Tony Zook, global commercial executive vice president.

Replacing one R&D senior executive come three key members of AstraZeneca's R&D staff, who will be responsible for treatment discovery and the full range of product development. The commercial role will now be split among three new co-heads, who will look after Europe, North America, and the rest of the world. And there will also be someone -- yet to be appointed -- who will link R&D and sales within a "global portfolio and strategy" role.

Announcing the changes, Soriot commented:

"This new senior executive team structure, that draws heavily from the leadership talent within the company, enables us to bring an even sharper management focus to key pipeline assets, key brands, and key markets, and helps us further accelerate decision-making."

This shake-up of senior executives comes a fortnight ahead of AstraZeneca's full-year results, due on Jan. 31, in which Soriot is expected to unveil his ideas to reinvigorate the ailing pharmaceutical group. Whether his plans work, only time will tell.

For now, however, AstaZeneca remains a favorite share of Neil Woodford, the ace dividend investor, whose portfolios have trounced the FTSE during the 15 years to this past October. You can discover more about AstraZeneca and the other income stocks Woodford currently prefers by reading this exclusive free report. To download your copy, just click here.

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