AstraZeneca (AZN) CEO David Brennan has retired from his post as the head of the company.
This news came as no surprise to many investors. The company has found a string of recent failures in drug development and has left investors skeptical of the its earning prospects. As a result, Brennan has resigned his post and the company has decided to make Simon Lowth the interim CEO. Lowth will serve the position until a new CEO is chosen.
After patents were lost on some of the company's leading cancer medications, AstraZeneca felt it was necessary to cut jobs, increase dividends and buy back shares to counteract the slowing sales figures in an attempt to provide shareholders with a reasonable return. Although the company has experienced an increase in returns lately, these are mostly due to that increase in dividends. In fact, at the moment AstraZeneca shares are selling at the lowest rate among the top ten drug makers. As far as I am concerned, this reflects any justified skepticism about the future of the company on the behalf of investors. Reports of Brennan's retirement, do not come as a surprise after rumors that several investors wanted him ousted.
Brennan stated that "Delivery on our restructuring plans and continued discipline on operating costs, together with the benefits from a lower tax rate, will only partially mitigate the revenue pressures" and consequently the company cut its full year profit targets…again.
Brennan's attempts to focus on acquiring new drugs from deals with other companies have been partially successful, but I still feel that he acted too late. The company needs to find new sources of growth, but it has known this for a long time. Patents do not expire unexpectedly and the company should have begun a focus on developing or acquiring new drugs a lot sooner.
One deal made by the company is with Medicines (MDCO). The two companies recently announced that they will collaborate on drugs for acute ischemic heart disease. According to the terms of the four-year deal, AstraZeneca will pay $15 million a year to Medicines Co which will in turn begin supporting London-based AstraZeneca subsidiary Brilinta, in the U.S. This will make AstraZeneca's heat medication available to a larger group of people. AstraZeneca also acquired Ardea Biosciences (RDEA) for $1.26 billion in recent news. The company hopes to make several other licensing deals and acquisitions very soon.
These are the kinds of deals that may save the company, but I still feel that there is a high chance that it is too little effort too late in the game. AstraZeneca could have been making these moves as a solution for stabilizing future growth, however, instead, the moves are being made to counteract the failures of its recent drug developments.
Although some of the drugs under consideration will only lose their patent protection in a few years time, it is clear that AstraZeneca has no drugs in the pipeline to replace these major sellers, which means that now may be a good time for stockholders to get out.
There's been some mixed news for AstraZeneca competitor Eli Lilly (LLY) lately. On the one hand, the company is facing huge losses due the expiration of its patent for the antipsychotic drug Zyprexa. On the other hand, the company has done far better than expected and has raised its yearly earnings forecast substantially. In addition, there are a number of drugs in the pipeline of this company making it potentially one of the better long-term options to consider. Eli Lilly is an example of a company doing what AstraZeneca should have doing, investing in future drug development and investing enough to find success.
Questcor Pharmaceuticals (QCOR) appears to have made a bit of a comeback. Of late, the unexpected success of the Acthar drug has boosted the company's profits by a substantial amount. This development has taken most market analysts by surprise. This is definitely a company to keep your eye on at present, especially if Acthar sales continue to be hot.
Biogen Idec (BIIB) seems to be a good option to back for most investors in the current climate. This is because the company has been upgraded by many analysts recently. This is most likely due to its new breakthrough with the new drug BG-12 which has proven in its final trials to be effective and safe to use in the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis. This is a significant breakthrough for the company which should yield many good effects on the stock.
Although it may seem that most of AstraZeneca's main competitors are in a better position than it, there are a few out there who are not doing so well. Amgen (AMGN), for example, recently experienced a significant setback. US health regulators rejected an application made by Amgen to extend the use of the drug Xgeva. The company wants to use the drug to prevent the spread of tumors to the bones specifically in patients with prostate cancer. The FDA says that the negative side effects outweigh the benefits and that further trials are required before it will give approval.
Gilead Sciences (GILD) is also suffering. The HIV drug maker experienced a 32% drop in profit after acquiring the hepatitis C drug manufacturer Pharmasset (VRUS). The decrease in profit is directly related to the cost of purchasing the company. However, the acquisition of Pharmasset may be a very strategic move, as Gilead is now in possession of a successful hepatitis C treatment that will no doubt boost future share prices. The drop is a temporary one, in my opinion, and Gilead remains the company to watch.
Even if some competitors are slipping, AstraZeneca's partners in the industry are, for the most part, preparing for new successes. The company has been hit with some challenges lately, and it will remain to be seen if its acquisitions can buoy it out of its hole. My gut inclination is that the purchases will be too little for now and that former CEO Brennan's failures may loom over AstraZeneca for a while now.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.