AstraZeneca has announced that John Patterson, its executive director responsible for development, is to retire from the company next March.

Dr Patterson, 61, will be succeeded by Anders Ekblom, 54, who will assume responsibility for the development organisation at the end of January. He joined Astra in 1993, before the merger with Zeneca, from the Karolinska Institutet and is currently vice president and head of global clinical development.

Dr Patterson has been with the firm for much longer, having joined Zeneca’s ICI Pharmaceuticals unit in 1975. He has held a variety of posts in the organisation and took over as head of drug development in December 2004.

Chief executive David Brennan delivered a warm tribute to Dr Patterson, saying that he has made “an important and lasting contribution to the business”. Under his leadership, “the productivity and efficiency of AstraZeneca’s drug development has improved significantly", he said, and “we now have the largest pipeline in our history and a clear focus on what is required to deliver it”.