AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot has come under fire from investors for failing to defend its coronavirus vaccine amid questions about its safety.
Investors said that the Frenchman, who has been in Australia visiting his wife and children since Christmas, had not adequately communicated the benefits of AstraZeneca’s vaccine following fears it could be linked to rare brain clots.
AstraZeneca suffered a setback to the global rollout of its vaccine on Wednesday when the British Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) warned over the possible link between the jab and brain blood clots in a small number of patients. A number of European countries suspended its use due to the concerns.
Australia’s medical experts decided after a lenghty meeting on Thursday that Pfizer is now the preferred vaccine for people aged under 50 because of the rare but serious blood clotting side effect linked to the AstraZeneca jab.
Pascal Soriot has been supervising the global rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine from Sydney since December.Credit:Nine
Ketan Patel, a fund manager at EdenTree Investment Management, which has a stake in AstraZeneca, said Mr Soriot’s absence from the pharma giant’s headquarters in the UK “did not give the right signal or message”.
“If we were grading the PR effort, they could do better,” Mr Patel said.
“If you look at the data, and see that the chances of getting a blood clot with this vaccine is about four in one million, compared to four in 10,000 for the contraceptive pill, that perspective needs to be highlighted.
“Perhaps it is right to say, where is the chief executive in terms of articulating the healthcare benefits? He hasn’t been that public and being halfway around the world doesn’t give the right signal or message.
“It’s ok to work remotely, but if you are the boss of a multi-billion pound healthcare company with a COVID vaccine I can see why people would be thinking ‘why isn’t Pascal here?’“, the fund manager said.
The pharmaceutical giant is headquartered in Cambridge.
AstraZeneca is not a vaccine specialist but pledged to sell the jab at cost during the pandemic as part of an agreement with Oxford University. Mr Soriot has been credited with reviving the company’s fortunes by betting on new oncology drugs and focusing on research and development.
Adam Barker, an analyst at Shore Capital, warned that criticism of the vaccine was becoming “a distraction” for AstraZeneca.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if its oncology team, which has done incredible things in the last few years, are very frustrated that this issue is deflecting away from their ongoing contribution to redefining the cancer treatment pathway,” he said.
Mr Patel added: “Pascal has done hugely well, the company is delivering good growth, but that success is being overshadowed by negative sentiment over the vaccine.”
AstraZeneca’s share price has fallen by a fifth since last July.
A spokesman for AstraZeneca said Mr Soriot would return to the company’s UK and European offices after travel restrictions were eased.
He said: “Travel restrictions and local lockdowns mean it makes little sense to be travelling right now, particularly given that many countries require quarantine.
“Mr Soriot will continue to empower his team of experts and remain in regular contact with operational leaders in the many sites across the world.”
The Telegraph, London
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