AstraZeneca appoints new chairman for troubled times

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The Independent Online

AstraZeneca named Leif Johansson, the chairman of the telecoms group Ericsson, as the next head of its board, as the pharma giant battles to overcome a cocktail of problems developing new drugs and selling old ones.

The appointment of Gothenburg-born Johansson, pictured, as chairman is a strengthening of the Swedish half of Astra's roots, but its urgent focus will be on the US, the world's biggest medicine market.

There, Astra's heartburn drugs Nexium and anti-psychotic Seroquel both fall out of patent in 2014. Together, the pills brought in revenues of more than $10bn (£6.27bn) last year.

Investors will hope Johansson – who is to take the helm in September when incumbent Louis Schweitzer retires – can steer Astra through perhaps the toughest time in its history.

The company has suffered a series of pipeline setbacks, making a $380m writedown in December after two of its major new drugs failed to hit targets in late-stage clinical trials, as well as suffering the consequences of major patents running out.

Unlike some of its rivals, Astra has avoided a push into over-the-counter medicines and other consumer goods. Also yesterday, AstraZeneca nominated Graham Chipchase, chief executive at packaging group Rexam, and Genevieve Berger, head of research and development at consumer goods giant Unilever, as new non-executive directors.

Their appointments, alongside that of Mr Johansson, will be put to a shareholder vote at AstraZeneca's annual meeting in April.