Pascal Soriot 'here today' after bad trial results wipe $10bn from AstraZeneca value
Pascal Soriot, the chief executive of AstraZeneca, has said he is “here today” after repeatedly refusing to deny reports he is leaving the firm for Israeli rival Teva in a call with journalists after a huge setback in a major lung cancer clinical trial wiped $10bn-plus from its market value. Mr Soriot said he was “very committed to delivering our strategy” but declined several times to be drawn on his own future, saying he would not comment on market speculation. But he added: “I’m not a quitter - that’s as far as I will go. Throughout my professional life I’ve experienced good times and not so good times. You put your head down and focus on the goal.” AstraZeneca’s share price plunged 16pc in early trading to $43 (£33), well below the £55 a share offer made by American drugs giant Pfizer and rejected by Mr Soriot just three years ago. The plunge in value may lead to pressure from investors for Mr Soriot to depart regardless of his own intentions. Mick Cooper, analyst at Trinity Delta, said: “There’s going to be much more pressure on him without a doubt. “He promised to get to $45bn sales by 2023 and with the readout on Imfinzi as it is it is hard to believe he will get anywhere near that.” Despite the setback in today’s Mystic lung cancer trial, Mr Soriot asked for “patience” from investors for the more comprehensive overall survival results next year. Mystic - a trial of AstraZeneca’s immuno-oncology (IO) drug Imfinizi - failed to improve progression free survival in patients compared to using chemotherapy, the firm said today. The trial was AstraZeneca’s big play for a bite of the fast-growing IO drugs market, worth $8bn (£6.3bn) today and projected to reach $50bn in value. Imfinzi is the company's core IO asset and has so far been approved for use in bladder cancer patients in the US. Mr Soriot stressed Mystic was just one of 12 ongoing trials involving Imfinzi, often in combination with other drugs. But Mystic was its biggest clinical trial yet and was for the largest potential unmet patient need, lung cancer, which is the reason for the large share price reaction. Mr Soriot made becoming a world leader in IO and lung cancer treatments key planks of his R&D strategy. It was also part of his rationale for rebuffing the £70bn takeover offer from Pfizer. Ahead of today’s announcements analysts had warned AstraZeneca had “become a one trial company” due to its reliance on the Mystic readout. Separately AstraZeneca announced it had signed a $8.5bn global strategic co-operation deal with one of the global leaders in IO - American drug giant Merck - to help commercialise one of the firm’s other cancer drugs Lynparza. The firms said they would look to launch Lynparza - known as a PARP inhibitor - in combination with their own IO drugs, AstraZeneca’s Imfinzi and Merck’s Keytruda. The company also published positive results for a separate smaller clinical trial of cancer drug Tagrisso in some lung cancer patients, but this failed to calm investor nerves. The Mystic trials will continue ahead of overall survival results next year. In its half-year results AstraZeneca posted a 11pc drop in sales to $10.5bn and a 37pc increase in operating profit to $1.8bn.