With Pfizer's bid dead, AstraZeneca chief promises eyes on goal

AZ CEO Pascal Soriot

With Pfizer's ($PFE) unwanted buyout bid in the past--at least for now--AstraZeneca ($AZN) needs to cheer up some of its shareholders. After all, some top investors in the U.K.-based drugmaker wanted to cash in on the proposed takeover. So, once again, CEO Pascal Soriot is making his case for AstraZeneca's bright future.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Soriot says he's "back to work" at the goals he outlined for the company last year: building up in diabetes, boosting the lagging blood thinner Brilinta, ratcheting up growth in emerging markets and launching new respiratory meds, to name four. And he's not above "transformational" M&A, either.

"It's crystal clear to everybody in the organization that we need to deliver on our goals," he told the WSJ.

In truth, Soriot's own paycheck could depend upon it. In the wake of Pfizer's failed bid, some AstraZeneca shareholders suggested that executive pay be tied to the value Pfizer was offering for the company. Soriot immediately tried to quash that idea, but just last week, news emerged that some shareholders are pressing the company's executive compensation committee chair to follow through on that idea.

It would be a money-where-your-mouth-is move. When Soriot touted AstraZeneca's growth plans last month, as part of its defense against the Pfizer bid, analysts and investors were skeptical. The $45 billion-by-2023 forecast seemed like an over-reach. Now, Soriot has to defend that goal. In his Journal interview, Soriot cited some new data on AstraZeneca's in-development cancer drugs, including a candidate in the super-hot immunotherapy field.

And he said he's considering M&A, partnerships and joint ventures to wring the most value out of his cancer business. For instance, last fall, AstraZeneca signed up to co-market Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) prostate cancer drug Zytiga in Japan.

Meanwhile, as AstraZeneca announced in April, the company is eyeing options for a couple of its therapeutic areas--anti-infectives and CNS meds. AstraZeneca might sell those assets, or partner up with another company in those fields.

Deal-wise, Soriot says AstraZeneca will keep shopping in the bolt-on range--several hundred million to $2 billion or more. But he's open minded: "If something came along that was bigger and would really be transformational and we think we can execute on it, we will definitely consider it," he said.

- read the WSJ piece (sub. req.)

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