BREAKING: AstraZeneca PLC's CMO Abruptly Jumps Ship to Unnamed Biotech

BREAKING: AstraZeneca's CMO Abruptly Jumps Ship to Unnamed Biotech
June 10, 2015
By Riley McDermid, Breaking News Sr. Editor

The chief medical officer of British drugmaker AstraZeneca PLC has abruptly quit his post to become the chief executive officer of an unnamed, smaller biotech company.

Briggs Morrison, AstraZeneca’s chief medical officer and head of global late-stage drug development, will leave the post immediately. His colleagues had been notified prior to today’s announcement, said the company.

"It's a great opportunity for him," a spokeswoman told media outlets Wednesday, though she declined to name Morrison’s new company.

Morrison played a crucial role in fighting off a takeover by Pfizer Inc. last year, during which AstraZeneca rejected a $118 billion bid on the strength of its own independent pipeline and culture. Because he’d worked at Pfizer for five years as an executive, he said at the time he believed he had a unique insight into why the two companies wouldn’t be a great fit.

“At every one of our senior executive meetings here, a third of the agenda is pipeline, science, and business development,” Morrison told the New York Times when speaking about AstraZeneca. “I didn’t have a feeling at Pfizer that every layer of the company was science based.”

He came to the company in 2012 and has focused on streamlining and updating its drug portfolio, boosting the company’s R&D efforts to a budget of $5.6 billion in 2014, a major jump from the $4.8 billion it spent in 2013.

When Will Pfizer's Breakup Happen?
Speculation that the revamping of Pfizer Inc. ’s internal business structure could happen as soon as this year has biotech wondering just when this Big Pharma company could see changes.

Last week an analyst with J.P. Morgan said he thinks there will be a much faster timeline than most of Wall Street had predicted for Pfizer’s stated mission to refocus its efforts on new medicines.

Pfizer initially announced in 2012 that it would be shedding units that were non-essential to that goal. It then promptly sold its nutrition silo to Nestle for $11.85 billion, which was rapidly accompanied by a public spin-off of its animal health business for $2.2 billion.

“While a Pfizer break-up would likely be a 2017 event, we see potential catalysts in 2015-2016," said Chris Schott, an analyst at J.P. Morgan. "Three years of audited financial statements (2014-2016) are required before any part of Pfizer can be spun off, and we also see 2017 as an attractive time for action as investors see Pfizer’s innovative pipeline clearly contributing to growth and the established business having transitioned to a more stable profile."

BioSpace wants to know what you think: Will Pfizer be a changed company by the end of 2015?

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