May 19, 2024

AstraZeneca’s Pascal Soriot: ‘The climate crisis is a health crisis’ | AstraZeneca

‘Me speak as a healthcare CEO, but also as a nature lover and a grandfather,” said Pascal Soriot, chief executive of Britain’s largest drugmaker, AstraZeneca, to King Charles III and a select audience during London Climate Week at an event in the grandeur of Welsh Gothic. City Hall.

Although 7 million people have died worldwide as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Soriot says that the climate crisis and pollution cost us “7 million to 9 million lives every year”.

“It affects all of us through respiratory diseases, cancers, health conditions, infectious diseases … This crisis is truly a health crisis.”

The 64-year-old Frenchman, who has made Australia his home, says the 2019 bushfires showed him the devastating effects of global warming and spurred him into action: “Although the bushfires were far from Sydney , the city was captured. in smoke.”

He brought together healthcare leaders and pharmaceutical executives in a task force for the king’s Sustainable Markets Initiative to accelerate private sector zero-carbon efforts.

Soriot is best known for bringing the world’s first non-profit Covid vaccine in late 2020, after AstraZeneca – until then not a major vaccine maker – teamed up with Oxford University to launch one of the first jabs against develop the virus.

“When [AstraZeneca’s R&D chief] Mene Pangalos and I said ‘Let’s do this vaccine for no profit,’ many people in the company could have said to me and Mene: ‘We don’t want to do it, it’s too risky, yes it’s complicated’,” says Soriot. “I didn’t get that comment once. It was a huge effort. A few people have suffered personally because of working hard … We have a great culture, and we have a great team. It’s probably the thing I’m most happy about.” He was knighted last year for his work and the work of the company during the pandemic.

AstraZeneca has suffered bad publicity for side effects and production delays, and has chosen not to re-engineer its job as a booster against new types of viruses, unlike rivals. A study by health data firm Airfinity estimates the Astra vaccine saved 6.3 million lives, compared with 5.9 million for the higher-priced Pfizer/BioNTech job.

As the use of its Covid job declines, there are suggestions that AstraZeneca could sell its vaccines and immunotherapies business. Soriot says this will depend on “whether the technologies [we] whether the work is successful or not”. His Covid antibody treatment for people with weakened immune systems, Evusheld, was initially successful but, like rival drugs, was found not to work against new virus variants in January. It has since been tweaked, and Soriot is confident that the new version works against all known version concerns. It could be made available by the end of the year.

It reveals that the firm is also working on an antibody for microbial infections, at a time when superbugs – drug-resistant infections – are increasing.

Soriot was born in the suburbs of Paris – where he says he got into street fights and learned loyalty – trained and worked as a horse vet. “I love horses, I always have since I was a child, and I decided I would be a vet when I was five years old,” he says. “My mother tried to convince me she was a doctor.”

He later decided to combine his interests in biology and business, and began a career in the pharmaceutical industry in Australia in 1986, at the French firm Roussel Uclaf. He has also worked in New Zealand, Japan, America and Switzerland, in senior roles at Aventis, Genentech and Roche.

A very modern glass-fronted building with rectangular walls creating a sawtooth effect surrounded by a garden in autumn
AstraZeneca Discovery Center in Cambridge. Photo: Alexandra Dragoi/The Guardian

AstraZeneca is reportedly drawing up plans to spin off its large Chinese business and list it in Hong Kong or Shanghai to protect the company from escalating geopolitical tensions. Soriot refuses to comment on “rumors” but says: “Over the years we’ve always looked at all kinds of things … but 90%, 95% of what we study doesn’t happen.”

“I know these tensions do not affect our industry today,” he says. “And I don’t believe our industry would be directly affected unless the tension gets really bad. But medicines are never sanctioned.” He rejects the idea that a separately listed Chinese company would get new drugs approved faster.

When Soriot arrived from Roche in 2012 and took over as chief executive from David Brennan – who had been ousted due to AstraZeneca’s thin pipeline of new medicines – the firm was the “sick man” of the industry. A little more than a year later, its larger US rival, Pfizer, ambushed the firm with a hostile takeover bid.

In the battle to keep AstraZeneca independent – which has been waged in public – Soriot claimed that merging with cost savings could delay life-saving cancer drugs and cost lives.

He was through major integration himself, as chief executive of Genentech, after Swiss giant Roche bought the US biotech firm for $46.8bn in 2009, bringing together “two companies [that] he had very different cultures”.

Pfizer walked away from its £69bn takeover bid in May 2014, but then Soriot had to deliver on an ambitious revenue promise.

It’s been ten years of hard graft – with Soriot earning nearly £120m in the process – and the company has doubled in size in the last five years.

Astra made a series of smart bets on cancer treatments and other medicines, including Lynparza. Work on the ovarian and prostate cancer drug, now a $2.6bn-a-year blockbuster, had been suspended amid skepticism from the commercial team, but Soriot decided to “take a risk” and revive it after consulting with one of the firm’s leading oncologists. , José Baselga.

Under Soriot, the firm increased research spending, to $9.8bn (£7.4bn) last year, and restructured R&D into smaller, more autonomous teams similar to healthcare start-ups. ItAstra aims to deliver at least 15 new medicines by 2030.

He decided to close the famous research center at Alderley Park in Cheshire, cut a tenth of the workforce and build a new £1bn headquarters in Cambridge to bring all the scientists under one roof, as part of the science cluster largest feed in Europe.

AstraZeneca is now the UK’s biggest listed company, with a market value of £163bn – putting it ahead of New York-listed Pfizer at $203.6bn (£155bn) – even after writing off nearly £14bn of Astra’s value because of concern. a new lung cancer drug may not be as successful as expected.

After nearly jumping ship to Israel-based Teva in 2017, Soriot is often asked how long he will stay. “I can continue this job for many years,” he said last summer.

He says today: “The exciting part of our industry is that, not only do we help people by giving them medicines that can cure them or help them live with their disease, but the other exciting part is that technology and science changing. always. So there is always something new happening, so you never get bored. I’m not bored.”


Age 64

Family Married with two children and one grandson.

Education He studied veterinary medicine at the Alfort National Veterinary School in Paris; MBA at HEC Paris business school.

Pay The total package, including long-term share bonuses, was £15.3m in 2022.

Last holiday Vietnam.

The best advice he has been given “Choose a job not because you believe it will be better for your career but because you believe you will enjoy it. You’ll be more successful at something you enjoy, and you’ll have fun.”

Biggest career mistake “Out of loyalty, he kept someone for too long in a job that was not suitable for them. Trying to help one person for too long costs many others.”

A word he uses too much “Someone else should answer that question.”

How to relax Cycling, skiing,

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