AstraZeneca heads to court to contest former exec's move to crosstown rival GSK: report

An executive tug of war is brewing across the pond.

Angling to keep trade secrets out of a local rival’s hands, AstraZeneca has asked a London court to enforce and extend a noncompete agreement signed by a former employee who recently jumped ship to GSK, Bloomberg News reports.

The move is an effort by AZ to block Chris Sheldon—formerly the British Big Pharma’s vice president of investor relations—from sharing key therapeutic information with new employer GSK, according to the news service.

AstraZeneca did not respond to a request for comment by press time. 

GSK declined to comment on the litigation, but the company confirmed it had hired Chris Sheldon as SVP of GSK’s commercial portfolio. The hire “supports [GSK’s] clear ambition to invest in our commercial capabilities to deliver future growth,” a spokesperson said.

Sheldon’s role at GSK begins in September. During his time at crosstown competitor AstraZeneca, Sheldon had access to confidential information in a range of sensitive areas including oncology, AstraZeneca said in a legal filing seen by Bloomberg. According to the news service, Sheldon was paid more than 644,000 pounds sterling ($774,090) in company shares back in 2021 to sign the noncompete clause.

The noncompete agreement bars Sheldon from facilitating competition in respiratory, oncology and COVID-19-related therapy work for six months after leaving AZ, the company told Bloomberg.

Sheldon’s entry into the GSK fold coincided with that of another AZ employee, Garrett Rhyasen, who’s joining the rival company as VP of search and evaluation for oncology. The move represents a promotion for Rhyasen, who most recently worked in a similar capacity for AstraZeneca as executive director and global head of oncology search and evaluation, business development and licensing.

It isn’t unprecedented for AstraZeneca to tussle over exec departures. Back in 2017, the drugmaker sued Luke Miels, who’d also left for GSK, arguing that the former executive planned to start his stint at GSK “in breach of his contract of employment” with AstraZeneca, an AZ spokesperson told Fierce Pharma at the time.

Miels’ departure was mired in animosity. AstraZeneca accused Miels of misusing confidential info and documents to nab the top pharma job at GSK, while Miels claimed AstraZeneca chief executive and former mentor Pascal Soriot took his departure personally, threatening Miels over his visa when he turned down a counteroffer to stay, according to reports at the time.