AstraZeneca scores injunction to temporarily halt former exec's start at crosstown rival GSK

AstraZeneca has logged a last-minute victory—for now—in its executive tug of war with GSK.

Just hours before outgoing AZ exec Chris Sheldon was set to take up his post at crosstown rival GSK, AZ has blocked the move in a London court. Wednesday, a High Court judge granted AZ an injunction in the unusual legal battle, as reported by the Financial Times, Bloomberg and others.

“Whilst we are disappointed by this interim decision, we continue to believe that Dr. Sheldon’s position is strong and are confident that he will be able to begin his new role at GSK following the main hearing in October,” a GSK spokesperson said via email.

“Regardless of the next hearing’s outcome, however, we look forward to Dr Sheldon joining in the coming months and welcome the expertise he will bring to GSK,” she continued.

Sheldon—formerly AZ’s vice president of investor relations—was due to begin his new job at GSK on Sept. 1. At GSK, he’ll eventually settle into the role of senior vice president of the company’s commercial portfolio.

AZ first sued Sheldon in July, alleging that starting at GSK before February would result in a breach of a noncompete agreement that’s valid for six months, the FT reports.

AZ says Sheldon received more than 644,000 pounds sterling ($774,090) in company shares back in 2021 to sign the noncompete clause, multiple news outlets have reported.

The noncompete agreement specifically bars Sheldon from facilitating competition in respiratory, oncology and COVID-19-related therapy work for half a year after leaving AZ, the company told Bloomberg earlier this month.

Sheldon denies any allegations of wrongdoing, FT reports. The exec contends he told AZ of his plans to change companies in April.

The case is set to go to trial in October, FT notes, pointing out that AZ sought an urgent High Court Injunction Wednesday to prevent Sheldon’s planned start at GSK the following day.

It’s unusual for employment feuds to bleed over into the High Court, FT points out. That said, it isn’t entirely uncharted territory for AZ, which in 2017 sued its former staffer Luke Miels, who’d also left for GSK. At the time, an AZ spokesperson explained to Fierce that the former executive planned to start his stint at GSK “in breach of his contract of employment” with AZ.