AZ blocks former exec from taking up role at GSK – for now


AstraZeneca has succeeded in a last-gasp effort to stop its former head of investor relations joining rival UK pharma group GSK, after winning an injunction in the High Court in London.

Chris Sheldon ended an almost 19-year career at AZ in August, working his way up from a lab role and holding a series of senior positions at the company, most recently as head of investor relations.

He was due to start at GSK this morning to lead the commercial aspects of its business development, seeking out late-stage deal opportunities as the pharma group tries to build up its pipeline and step up sales growth in the wake of its separation from consumer health business Haleon.

AZ asked the court for an injunction on his appointment on the grounds that it would violate a six-month non-compete agreement, for which Sheldon was awarded more than £644,000 (around $775,000) in shares in 2021, according to Bloomberg.

It has tried to block Sheldon from taking up the new role until February, arguing that there is a "real and substantial risk" that he will break the agreement if he joins GSK before then, raising the risk of "irreparable damage" to its business.

The case is due to go to trial next month, and the judge in the case – Mrs Justice Heather Williams – has ruled that Sheldon should not join GSK until it is heard.

AZ argued at the hearing that it has a legitimate business interest in holding its former employee to the non-compete clause, while counsel for Sheldon said there was no reason that he could not start the job at GSK, as it was not related to the roles he had performed for AZ in the last 12 months.

"We continue to believe that Dr Sheldon's position is strong and are confident that he will be able to begin his new role at GSK following the main hearing in October," commented GSK.

"Regardless of the next hearing's outcome…we look forward to Dr Sheldon joining in the coming months and welcome the expertise he will bring to GSK."

It's not the first time that AZ has taken legal action to try to prevent one of its former executives making the move to its rival. In 2017, it sued Luke Miels after he agreed to join GSK as its chief commercial officer, alleging breach of contract.

The two parties eventually reached an out-of-court settlement, with Miels eventually taking up the role after a few months' delay.