Lucy Tobin: With endless remedies to choose from, what went wrong?

When AstraZeneca was wheeled into A&E a few years ago, bleeding revenues everywhere and its growth stunted by a lack of vitamins R&D, the professionals knew the prognosis was grim. They tried a bit of this and that: lowering medical costs by firing thousands of carers; buying some new body parts like the $15.6bn acquisition of MedImmune in 2007.

But nothing worked. And then, to stretch the analogy a little, just when they thought things couldn't get worse, the patient's head fell off. Or was cut off. No one will say.

Almost all of Astra's blockbuster medicines are now facing generic competition on the pharmacy shelves, or soon will. Three major pipeline hopes have failed in as many months. And there's only so long a company can hypnotise investors with cash hand-outs.

In that context, it's little wonder a German investor at the drug maker's AGM yesterday said he was "astounded" at Mr Brennan's "leav[ing] the ship on high seas". AstraZeneca's headhunters are going to have one hell of a job finding someone to take over.

In some ways, it's not such a different situation from when Mr Brennan replaced Sir Tom McKillop at the top of AstraZeneca in 2006. At the time, he joked with a colleague who had come to congratulate him: "Great job, shit timing." Could Mr Brennan have done more in his six years in charge? If instead of chucking almost $16bn at MedImmune he had made a play for Shire, the Dublin-headquartered drug maker that has made serious progress on its pipeline, Astra might not be in the state it's in today. Worse, though, was Mr Brennan's decision to cut back on research and development at the time when Astra needed it most.

It was that which put the drug maker into intensive care. Only time will tell if it pulls through.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Digital Optimisation Executive - Marketing

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's fastest growing, multi...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Reporting Manager

£70000 - £90000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Financial Reporting Manager i...

Recruitment Genius: Payments Operations Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They win lots of awards for the...

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Debt Negotiator

£13500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This nationwide enforcement com...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific