AstraZeneca Poaches Genentech Boss From Roche

AstraZeneca has appointed Pascal Soriot, former chief executive of Genentech, as its new chief executive following the departure of David Brennan earlier this year.

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Soriot’s appointment demonstrates the increasing importance of biotech-type medicines to pharmaceutical companies. He had been chief operating officer of Roche’s pharmaceuticals division, after the company took over Genetech in a $49 billion deal in 2009.

He also has extensive mergers and acquisition experience, which will be increasingly important to AstraZeneca , which has plenty of cash but a relatively weak pipeline of new drugs that could lead it to buy more medicines or even companies.

Andrew Weiss, analyst at Vontobel, said: "AstraZeneca picked an adept pharma exec who has experience in restructuring and integration of big acquisition (Genentech). He is hands on and can spot a problem."

He added that it is a "tough call" to know where Soriot will take AstraZeneca and argued that the company does not have enough cash for a big acquisition.

Simon Lowth, who had been acting CEO since Brennan’s departure in April, will return to his old job of finance director when Soriot joins AstraZeneca in October.

During his brief time as CEO, Lowth helped shepherd in a potentially lucrative joint takeover of diabetes specialist Amylin with Bristol Myers-Squibb .

Pascal Soriot said: “No-one is blind to the challenges that confront the pharmaceutical sector and this company, but the underlying strengths of AstraZeneca in delivering on its strategy are clear.”

Leif Johansson, chairman of AstraZeneca, said: “This is a key appointment at an important time for AstraZeneca and we are certain that Pascal’s leadership qualities combined with his strategic thinking and relevant experience make him the right person to drive the company to success over the coming years.”

In the past couple of years, AstraZeneca has cut jobs and reorganized the business in an effort to solve its pipeline difficulties. Its bestselling drug, cholesterol treatment Crestor, will face a threat from generic versions of Pfizer’s Lipitor in the next couple of years.

Written by Catherine Boyle, CNBC. Twitter: @catboyle01