* Move gives CEO more room for investments, M&A
* Some $2.3 bln shares bought back of $4.5 bln target
* Company keeps full-year earnings target
* Shares fall 1.4 pct
(Adds analyst comment, updates shares)
LONDON, Oct 1 (Reuters) - AstraZeneca has suspended
its share buyback programme, giving its new chief executive room
to step up investment and make acquisitions as he draws up a
plan for returning the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker to growth.
The company, which has suffered a string of clinical trial
failures and faces patent expiries, said on Monday it was
halting the programme after buying back shares worth $2.3
billion of its initial target of $4.5 billion.
Shares in AstraZeneca fell as much as 2.7 percent following
the announcement. They were trading 1.4 percent lower at 2,913
pence by 1505 GMT, the biggest decline on the UK's benchmark
FTSE 100 index.
The company, however, maintained its core earnings target
for the full year at between $6 and $6.30 per share.
Chief Executive Pascal Soriot, who was previously at rival
Roche Holding, started at AstraZeneca on Monday.
"As I assume my new responsibilities at AstraZeneca, I
believe this is a prudent step that maintains flexibility while
the board and I complete the company's ongoing annual strategy
update," he said in a statement.
An AstraZeneca spokeswoman said the board could decide to
resume the buybacks or it could identify other opportunities for
business investment, such as acquisitions or in its own
"It's about maintaining some flexibility from a financial
point of view," she said.
Analysts said when Soriot's appointment was announced in
August that he needed to make significant changes to restore the
He has no time to waste, given a number of AstraZeneca's
biggest selling drugs lose exclusivity over the next few years,
and it has little in its pipeline of medicines in late-stage
clinical trials to replace them.
Its blockbusters Nexium, a heartburn medicine, and heart
drug Crestor lose patent protection in 2014 and 2016
respectively, while anti-psychotic drug Seroquel lost patent
protection earlier this year.
Shore Capital analyst Brian White said suspending the
buybacks would give Soriot maximum flexibility from day one.
"Our view is the company has a window of opportunity over
the next two to four years, when Nexium and Crestor are
genericised, to use the cash flows from those products to get
out there and bolster the pipeline," he said.
"And they have to maximise the firepower that the new CEO
has (to do that)."
(Additional reporting by Brenton Cordeiro in Bangalore; Editing
by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Mark Potter)