AZ CEO set to take charge at Teva – report

A press report has suggested AstraZeneca’s chief executive Pascal Soriot is set to leave and take the helm at Israel’s troubled Teva, sparking speculation about the outcome of a key lung cancer immunotherapy trial.

The Israeli financial website, the Calcalist, reported that Soriot has met with a Teva search committee that is attempting to find a successor to former CEO Erez Vigodman, who stepped down in February.

Teva is struggling with the expiry of the US patent on its blockbuster multiple sclerosis drug, Copaxone, as well as an ambitious $41 billion takeover of Allergan’s generics business.

Chairman Yitzhak Peterburg has been serving as interim CEO since Vigodman left, and at the end of June, chief financial officer Eyal Desheh also quit.

AstraZeneca shares were down almost 5% on the London Stock Exchange following the news, while Teva’s shares jumped almost 6% on the Tel Aviv exchange.

According to reports, Soriot won’t come cheaply – he is expected to earn twice as much as Vigodman did and will reportedly get a $20 million bonus upon signing a contract.

But the move would make sense for Teva as Soriot is credited by some with getting AstraZeneca back on an even keel during a tricky period where the company faced patent expiries on its key drugs.

However Soriot is set to leave at a pivotal point for AZ if the stories are true – the company is due to announce top line results from the MYSTIC trial of its key immunotherapy combination in first line lung cancer.

If the combination of durvalumab and tremelimumab works in the indication, AZ could market the therapy in an indication expected to be worth an estimated $20 billion in sales, where Merck & Co already has a foothold with its Keytruda (pembrolizumab).

But if the combination fails to produce results in the indication, Soriot could be seen as leaving under a cloud as the therapy is an important part of his plans to revive the company’s fortunes.

Trinity Delta analyst Mick Cooper told Reuters: “Such a move only makes sense if Mystic is expected to disappoint.”

However, UBS analysts told Reuters that Soriot is well regarded and may have decided that all the restructuring work at AZ is complete.

They said: “We do not see the reports, even if true, as any indication of the specific results of the MYSTIC trial,” they said. “If Astra knew the results, they would have announced them.”

However some Twitter commentators were not as supportive.

An AstraZeneca spokesperson declined to comment, describing the story as “rumour and speculation.”

A Teva spokesperson said: “As our Chairman, Dr. Sol Barer has said in the past, his top priority is the ongoing global search to identify a world-class individual with deep and broad pharmaceutical expertise to serve as Teva’s permanent CEO. We will not comment on market rumours.”

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