AstraZeneca boss quits amid profits warning

The chief executive of AstraZeneca, David Brennan, shocked the markets by announcing his resignation yesterday in an apparent boardroom coup just hours before the pharmaceuticals giant's shareholder meeting kicked off.

Mr Brennan's departure appeared to be a victory for investors who had called for change at the top of the FTSE 100 drugs giant, which is suffering from dramatically falling revenues as key drugs face generic competition, as well as a weak pipeline of new drugs.

Yesterday the drugmaker added a profits warning to its other woes. Its first-quarter pre-tax profit plunged 40 per cent to $2.05bn (£1.26bn) – well below City expectations – but it admitted the full-year profit would also be worse.

One investor at the AGM at a London hotel shouted "shame on you" to Astra's board for "sniping" at Mr Brennan in newspaper stories, complaining about his lack of leadership as revenues began drying up. Another said the drugmaker's performance targets should be "more demanding" as "too much money" was thrown at executives.

American Mr Brennan, who started his career selling blood-pressure pills to doctors in Jersey City, pocketed a £9.1m salary last year. Britain's second-biggest drugmaker said Mr Brennan had told the board of his departure only yesterday.

Instead of serving out his 12-month notice, he will retire on 1 June and be replaced, temporarily, by the finance director, Simon Lowth.

Some people close to Astra believe Mr Brennan felt forced out. Insiders told the BBC: "The board took the view we needed change, because of the urgency of implementing a new strategy. It was difficult and painful. Forcing through this kind of thing is not easy."

Meanwhile, Astra's clearout of its top guard continued when it said Leif Johansson, the former Volvo boss who is to succeed Louis Schweitzer as chairman, will take over three months earlier than planned, also on 1 June.

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