July 21, 2017
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

LONDON – After a period of uncertainty, AstraZeneca (AZN) Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot finally broke his silence to squelch rumors he was departing the company and urged his employees to remain focused on the company’s goals.

In an internal memo sent earlier this week to employees, Soriot told the AstraZeneca employees that together, “we are poised to achieve something remarkable and that few thought possible,” as Bloomberg first reported. In the memo, Soriot went on to say that “nothing” could break the momentum established by the company, particularly not rumors, Bloomberg noted. What was left out of the memo though is whether or not Soriot was courted by rival Teva Pharmaceuticals (TEVA) and if he had considered taking over the smaller generics company.

The note reinforced a company statement issued last Friday, July 17, that Soriot was staying with the company. He plans to host a conference call with investors on July 27, during which he no doubt will be asked numerous questions about the Teva rumors and why the company remained mum on them for several days, leading to a $4 billion drop in market share.

In the note, Soriot sent to company employees, he said the reason the company did not respond to those rumors was because the company “has a long-standing policy of not addressing speculation unless required to do so by regulators…,” Bloomberg reported. The Israeli financial publication Calcalist first reported Soriot was taking over the reins at Teva and the story was quickly picked up by most major publications across the globe, including BioSpace.

Not only did Soriot’s note provide assurance to AstraZeneca employees, investors are beginning to respond positively as well. Shares of AstraZeneca are up slightly in premarket trading, hitting $34.

Not only is Soriot giving assurance he is remaining with the London-based company, but an AstraZeneca spokesperson told Reuters that he was planning on attending the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) annual meeting in Madrid in September. However, Reuters added a caveat that his attending that event may hinge on whether or not the company will have any presentations to make at the time. The company is expected to release data on its anticipated and key late stage Mystic trial testing its drug Imfinzi (durvalumab). The Phase III lung cancer trial is assessing progression free survival and overall survival endpoints in patients with PDL1-expressing tumors for both durvalumab monotherapy and the combination of durva + treme, as well as in ‘all comers’ for the combination of durva + treme, versus SoC chemotherapy. If the readouts are significantly positive, analysts have suggested the treatment could be worth an estimated $2.5 billion in annual revenue.

Imfinzi is a key drug for AstraZeneca’s pipeline future. Its success in the Mystic trial, as well as successes in treating other types of cancer, including bladder cancer, is a key marker on whether or not Soriot’s bold pledge of turning AstraZeneca into a company with $45 billion in annual revenue by 2023 is feasible. The drug’s hoped-for success will determine if the company’s pipeline turns around following several recent AstraZeneca setbacks, including last year’s failure the Phase III combination drug of selumetinib and docetaxel chemotherapy in treating lung cancer.

While Soriot remains with AstraZeneca, the search for a new CEO continues at Teva. The company has been without a CEO since February, but is reportedly close to naming a new chief by the end of the summer.

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