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AstraZeneca chief on Brexit: “It’s going to be really painful”

Soriot also claims to be lowest paid CEO in sector

Pascal Soriot

AstraZeneca’s stockpiling of medicines ahead of Brexit is a temporary safeguard at best, and shortages could follow if no customs deal is agreed with the EU, according to CEO Pascal Soriot.

In a pair of articles in the Times and Sunday Times, AZ’s CEO says the company has increased its medicine stocks by around 20%, and “wasted” some £40m ($53m) building laboratories in Sweden to duplicate product testing so that products can stay on the market.

However, a ‘no deal’ outcome on customs could cause “more serious problems” given the complexity of the supply chain for medicines across Europe, with components shuttling back and forth between the UK and EU27 at different stages of manufacturing. Too much friction in that process could affect patients’ ability to access essential medicines, he warns.

Without an agreement – or at least a deal to extend negotiations – “it’s going to be really painful,” says Soriot, who adds: “I hope more and more people get worried.”

In a frank and wide-ranging interview with the Sunday Times, the AZ chief also claims to be the lowest-paid CEO in the whole industry, while GlaxoSmithKline’s Emma Walmsley is also underpaid compared to their US and EU peers.

Soriot was also scathing about the state of AZ’s R&D operations when he moved to the company from Roche, saying he started without “any portfolio of products, any science” and not much to talk about apart from the early-stage pipeline.

“Quite a few of these discussions were quite frightening for me because I had come from Genentech and was used to high-level science.”

Now, with new products like cancer drugs Lynparza, Tagrisso and Imfinzi starting to build momentum – plus a fast-growing business in China – Soriot says the company is on a substantially firmer footing. Yet despite the turnaround he has faced two shareholder revolts over renumeration  and his pay lags behind those of other CEOs such as Pfizer’s Ian Read and Gilead’s John Milligan, according to the article.

That disparity – which Soriot says is “annoying” - may be a reason for the rumour last year that he was planning to jump ship to Teva, which he dismisses in the interview as having no substance. Teva’s vacant CEO role eventually filled by Lundbeck’s Kåre Schultz.

25th September 2018

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