By Ben Hirschler
LONDON (Reuters) - AstraZeneca Chief Executive Pascal Soriot, responding to rumors he might leave the drugmaker to join rival Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, has told staff he expects to work together with employees to see the company succeed.
A company spokeswoman added he was intending to attend the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) annual meeting in Madrid in September, assuming that AstraZeneca had clinical data on its new immunotherapy medicine ready to present at the event.
Soriot did not comment on whether he had received a job offer from Teva in the internal memo to staff, which was sent out at the start of this week. Rumors were "part of everyday business", he said, and AstraZeneca had a policy of not commenting on speculation.
"Together, we are poised to achieve something remarkable and that few thought possible," he wrote. "Nothing can break the momentum you have established, and certainly not rumors."
The spokeswoman confirmed the content of the memo to staff.
A report in the Israeli media last week said Soriot was in talks to join Teva, the world's biggest generic drugmaker. That hit shares in AstraZeneca hard, since it would leave the British drugmaker without a leader at a pivotal moment.
The company is awaiting for all-important data from a lung cancer drug trial called MYSTIC, which is viewed as crucial for the company's long-term success.
AstraZeneca is hoping to secure a substantial slice of a multibillion dollar market by proving its combination of two immunotherapy drugs, durvalumab and tremelimumab, can help previously untreated patients with advanced lung cancer.
It has already proved in a separate trial called PACIFIC that durvalumab alone can help some patients with earlier-stage disease.
Detailed findings from both studies could be presented at the ESMO meeting, if scientists are able to prepare them for presentation in time. That would make the cancer meeting a key event for AstraZeneca.
Soriot is a regular attendee at such medical meetings and the 58-year-old Frenchman has made research-based drug discovery the central focus of his time at AstraZeneca.
Moving to a generics drugmaker like Teva would therefore be a big change in direction.
During his five years at AstraZeneca, Soriot successfully defended the company against a takeover approach from Pfizer and has rebuilt the drugs pipeline through both in-house research and acquisitions.
(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Keith Weir)