What on earth is going on over at AstraZeneca? The company has had plenty of wild ups and downs over the years, and managed to fight off a takeover attempt by Pfizer (and who else has managed that?) But in doing so, they made some pretty strong revenue projections (look what we’ll do if Pfizer doesn’t ruin it). The shareholders, especially the big institutional ones, took note of these markers, and management knew that they wouldn’t forget.
The company’s big push recently has been in immuno-oncology, which is certainly a field with plenty of revenue potential (and a lot of unsettled clinical science). AZN investors have been waiting for the results of the MYSTIC trial, which is testing the company’s durvalamab against non-small cell lung cancer in combination with their CTLA4 antibody. That’s the therapeutic area where Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo ran trouble, compared to Merck’s Keytruda, and the optimistic case has been that AstraZeneca, considered to be behind, has been able to benefit from all that turmoil and has positioned itself to come up with much better results that will move it (and its drugs) into the front ranks.
Nervousness about this thesis creeps up, however. Last month, CEO Pascal Soriot made some headlines when he spoke about how AstraZeneca would indeed be in trouble if MYSTIC failed to deliver. He sounded, in fact, like someone trying to prepare people for this possibility, and for the possibility that the company might find itself a takeover target again (this time, presumably, in a more disadvantaged position as well). That didn’t make anyone happy, it’s safe to say, but investors now have something to really ponder on: an Israeli newspaper reported last night that Soriot is leaving AstraZeneca entirely to become CEO of Teva. Importantly, both companies quickly came out with statements on the rumor, but importantly, those statements were. . . “No comment”.
Oops. So if Soriot really is leaving, and that sure makes it sound like he is, then what does that say about MYSTIC, and AstraZeneca’s prospects in general? The trial results have surely not been unblinded, but this does sound like a vote of no confidence in the whole effort. I can only imagine what people at the company are thinking today – it’s not going to be one of those high scientific productivity days, you can bet. Actually, there have been several days like that in the last couple of months, since Luke Miels left a high post at the company to join GSK and the dispute over his departure spilled over into the courts.
We’ll see what happens. MYSTIC might surprise, you never know. But “you never know” is not a good basis on which to run a company – and right now, we don’t know who’s going to be running this one.