AstraZeneca sues exec Luke Miels after his defection to GlaxoSmithKline

GSK says it looks forward to welcoming him to the firm in due course.

GlaxoSmithKline's poaching of pharma industry veteran Luke Miels from AstraZeneca in January was billed as an early win success for incoming CEO Emma Walmsley, who scrambled to replace global pharma president Abbas Hussain and other departing execs.

Fast-forward to the present, and the appointment has opened a can of worms. Bloomberg reported that Miels is currently on "gardening leave" from AZ after facing a lawsuit from his current employer alleging breach of employment.

AZ wants Miels to honor the terms of the contract he signed as executive VP of its European pharma business and has taken to the courts to try to force him to do so, according to the newswire.

Exactly what the company is asking for is not yet clear.

GSK first warned that all was not going to plan with the appointment last month, and said it hoped to quickly reach a resolution. In a statement, GSK limited itself to restating Miels' caliber to run the group's pharma business and said that it "looks forward to welcoming him to GSK in due course."

Hussain's exit and Miels appointment came amid a wave of departures at GSK since former CEO Andrew Witty announced his retirement last year, with both vaccines chairman Moncef Slaoui and ViiV head Dominique Limet also deciding to bid the company farewell.

Miels—who oversaw the launch of lung cancer drug Tagrisso and the renaissance of clot drug Brilinta at AZ—is a key figure in GSK's commercial team, which is trying to bring forward new product launches to offset the impact of losing patent protection for respiratory blockbuster Advair in the U.S. market.

Walmsley acknowledged the launch when announcing his appointment earlier this year. GSK is heading into a "critical period of commercialization for our new pharmaceutical products," he said, and added, "Luke will bring a strong new voice to the decisions and choices we will have to make for our pharma business."

The shadow over Miels' future role at GSK comes at a tricky juncture for the company. Major investor Neil Woodford sold his stake in the company—dubbing the move 'Glaxit'—and said his decision was built on 15 years of frustration with the company's failure to deliver shareholder value.