AstraZeneca plc (AZN) - Get Report shares are down after rumors began swirling that its CEO Pascal Soriot is on his way to Israel's Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. (TEVA) - Get Report ahead of key drug information release.
But amid the rumors of his departure, which comes as AstraZeneca is ready to release key data for its Mystic oncology program, there is a murmur that if Soriot jumps ship the company could be susceptible to a takeover.
"His exit would leave [AstraZeneca] rudderless in the wake of several other recent departures," wrote Seamus Fernandez of Leerink Partners in a note Thursday, echoing the sentiment of several other analysts. "In a best case scenario, we could see a change in management as an opening to a potential merger."
According to Calcalist, an Israeli business website, Soriot met with Teva's search committee and chairman and agreed to take the position, which comes with a salary nearly double Teva's last CEO's, which was $5.7 million, plus a signing bonus of $15 million to $20 million. The companies have refused to comment on the rumors.
Teva stock traded up almost 4% and AstraZeneca stock fell 1.6% by Thursday's close. AstraZeneca stock was up 4.5% by Friday's close, and Teva's was down 3.9%.
The rumors come after Martin Mackay, president of research and development, and Tony Zook, global commercial executive vice president, had their roles eliminated on Jan. 31 and as AstraZeneca's one-time hostile bidder, Pfizer plc (PFE) - Get Report , as well as other big pharma companies, may soon have access to large overseas cash hoards to fuel M&A. A management shake-up of this proportion could also make the company susceptible to an activist investor, especially as the company could be sitting on potentially valuable assets with a management team in flux.
"If true, the optics around his departure would be terrible ahead of the Mystic readout," Fernandez said, adding that the results are expected "any day now."
"Realistically it would leave the company in a state of flux ahead of both this important IO catalyst as well as upcoming data readouts from several other key pipeline assets," Fernandez added, referencing Lynparza, an ovarian cancer treatment, and roxadustat, which addresses chronic kidney disease and anemia, among other assets.
Pfizer, which made a $110 billion bid to acquire AstraZeneca in 2014, has left the door open for large-scale M&A as well.
"We will continue to evaluate deals," Pfizer CEO Ian Read said on a conference call with investors in May. "We never say never, but I believe the current environment needs to stabilize in order to be an advantageous market for big deals."
To be sure, there is no promise that Pfizer or any other large-cap pharma company is in a position to actually acquire an $80 billion-plus-market cap company like AstraZeneca. Or that anything in the way of corporate tax cuts like those that could help Pfizer get a deal done for AstraZeneca will actually come to fruition. However, if the company does indeed watch its CEO walk, anything is possible.
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