AstraZeneca seeks to calm CEO speculation after shares drop

By Maggie Fick

LONDON (Reuters) -AstraZeneca appeared to play down speculation about the future of its CEO after its shares fell more than 4% on Monday following a British tabloid report that Pascal Soriot was considering leaving the drugmaker as soon as next year.

The company initially declined to comment on the Mail on Sunday report, but later issued a statement saying: “We do not comment on market rumours. We have regulatory obligations and were there any truth in a rumour that could significantly impact our share price we would make an announcement.”

AstraZeneca shares closed down 3.2% after earlier touching their lowest since July 19.

Three analysts and one AstraZeneca shareholder told Reuters they attributed the move to the Mail on Sunday report that said Soriot had privately told friends and advisers he may leave the company as soon as next year.

Reuters could not independently verify the information.

Two of the analysts and the shareholder also said an article published on Monday in the Times newspaper could have affected the shares, though it appeared to contradict the Mail on Sunday report.

The Times’ article focused on the retirement of Mene Pangalos, the long-time biopharmaceuticals head of research at AstraZeneca, which was announced in July. In it, Pangalos was quoted as saying: “Pascal has got a lot of years ahead of him and he works as hard and as intensely as he did when I first met him in 2012.”

(Reporting by Maggie Fick and Samuel Indyk; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Mark Potter)