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AstraZeneca unveils reorg, hires controversial José Baselga as cancer chief

Underlines importance of cancer drugs to company's future growth

AstraZeneca has swapped around its senior management team to accommodate a new corporate structure based on two divisions, one focusing on cancer and another on biopharmaceuticals including cardiovascular, diabetes and respiratory drugs.

The reshuffle coincides with the departure of two senior leaders: chief commercial officer Mark Mallon, who leaves to become chief executive of US biotech Ironwood Pharmaceuticals, and Bahija Jallal, who leaves her post as research head of AZ’s biotech arm MedImmune to head up UK biotech company Immunocore.

Mene Pangalos will be the leader of a new unified Research and Development unit for BioPharmaceuticals, ending the split between MedImmune biologics research and AstraZeneca’s small molecule research division.

Pangalos was previously head of AZ’s early development unit, and has been credited as the architect of the company’s R&D renaissance since he joined the firm in 2010.

Cancer research gaining its own division highlights the importance of the therapy area to AZ’s continued growth, and the firm has hired a world class oncology researcher, Dr José Baselga to head up the division.

Dr José Baselga

Dr Baselga – formerly chief medical officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre – becoming head of cancer R&D.

Baselga’s appointment has raised a few eyebrows, however: he resigned from his roles at MSKCC and Weill Cornell Medical College last September after an investigation by the New York Times and ProPublica concluded he had failed to disclose financial ties to pharma companies.

Baselga insists that the disclosure failures were inadvertent, and the move to the corporate world with AZ clearly puts the matter behind him.

“Bringing the discovery through to late-stage development chain into one unit will make the process more agile and accelerate our work to bring transformative medicines to patients,” he said of the move to AZ. “This really is a dream job.”

Three new oncology drugs are already driving growth at AZ, namely targeted lung cancer drug Tagrisso (osimertinib) and ovarian cancer treatment Lynparza (olaparib) plus PD-L1 immunotherapy Imfinzi (durvalumab), and the company said recently that its long-established target of pushing sales to $45bn by 2023 remains achievable.

There are a number of other personnel changes as a result of the revamp, which will see each division responsible for R&D from discovery to late-stage development, with a dedicated commercial unit.

Dave Fredrickson retains his position as head of the global oncology business unit, and Ruud Dobber – formerly AZ’s head of North American commercial operations – will take over the running of the biopharma division.

All four execs will report directly to CEO Pascal Soriot.

The units will also share common basic biology and science platforms as well as product supply, manufacturing and IT infrastructure to improve efficiency, according to the company.

AZ returned to sales growth in the third quarter of 2018 after an extended period of pressure caused by patent expiries on blockbuster drugs. Soriot now says the new structure will “more closely align our R&D and commercial operations” as the company enters “a period of sustained growth for years to come.”

After an apparently aborted move to become CEO at Teva in 2017, there remains speculation about Pascal Soriot moving on from AstraZeneca. However yesterday’s reshuffle suggests he will remain in the position, as the firm is set to break back into sustained revenue growth in 2019 after years of patent expiry-induced shrinkage and rebuilding.

Article by
Phil Taylor

8th January 2019

From: Research

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