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Another Senior AstraZeneca PLC (AZN) Executive Departs to Helm Rival Company – Courtesy(Biospace)
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Another Senior AstraZeneca Executive Departs to Helm Rival Company

June 24, 2015
By Alex Keown and Riley McDermid, Breaking News Staff

LONDON – Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca PLC (AZN) has lost a second top executive in the last week, as James Ward-Lilley, the head of respiratory and inflammatory medicines, departed the company to become chief executive officer of lung drug specialist Vectura Group PLC, the company announced this morning.

Ward-Lilley is expected to take the helm of the Chippenham, England-based Vectura in October, the company said.

Vecutra’s stock was trading about $1 higher this morning after the news was announced. Shares hit a high of $182 per share from its open of $181 per share.

“I am delighted to have accepted the role of CEO of Vectura and to build on the already strong foundations that are in place. I am looking forward to driving the business forward and ensuring the company achieves its goal on becoming a specialty pharmaceutical company,” Ward-Lilley said in a statement.

Bruno Angelici, chairman of Vectura’s board of directors, said Ward-Lilley’s experience in the respiratory market will be an asset for Vectura. The addition of a respiratory specialist at Vectura will certainly help that company carve out a foothold in the respiratory drug market and build on previous successes.

In March Vectura, in partnership with generic drugmaker Sandoz, Inc., launched AirFluSal Forspiro, an inhaler for patients with asthma and/or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. That drug is currently being marketed in more than a dozen European countries, Mexico and South Korea.

AstraZeneca identified respiratory medicines as one of its potential growth areas and Ward-Lilley’s departure could be a blow to that goal. Among its many drugs, AstraZeneca manufactures Symbicort, for asthma and chronic lung disease. To bolster Symbicort and its respiratory drug line, AstraZeneca Pearl Therapeutics in 2013 and Almiralll’s lung drug business in 2014.

In March AstraZeneca announced its experimental COPD drug PT003, an inhaler, was successfully delivered via using the porous particle co-suspension technology developed by Pearl Therapeutics. In February AstraZeneca reported Symbicort earned $978 million and Pulmicort, another asthma medication, earned $269 million during the third quarter. AdditionallyAstraZeneca manufactures COPD drugs, Eklira Genuair, Tudorza Pressair and Duaklir Genuair.

Earlier this year AstraZeneca boosted its respiratory portfolio through an $800 million deal with Actavis plc (ACT).

Under terms of the deal, AstraZeneca acquired the U.S. and Canadian rights to Tudorza Pressair and Daliresp, both used to treat COPD. Combined annual sales of those products in the United States were about $230 million in 2014.

Ward-Lilley will replace Chris Blackwell as head of Vectura, who announced in February his decision to step down after leading the company for 12 years.

Last week privately-held Syndax Pharmaceuticals Inc. tapped Briggs W. Morrison, the former head of global late-stage drug development at AstraZeneca, as its new chief executive officer. During his tenure at AstraZeneca, Morrison played a crucial role in fighting off a takeover by Pfizer Inc. (PFE) last year, during which AstraZeneca rejected a $118 billion bid on the strength of its own independent pipeline and culture.

He came to AstraZeneca in 2012 with a focus on streamlining and updating its drug portfolio. He also played a role in boosting the company’s R&D efforts to a budget of $5.6 billion in 2014, a major jump from the $4.8 billion it spent in 2013.

An AstraZeneca spokesperson told Reuters that the close departure announcements of the two senior executives were coincidental.

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