Anglo-Swedish company, AstraZeneca, could come up against renewed shareholder pressure this week after one key investor said they were concerned over an apparent lack of a successor when chief executive, Sir Tom McKillop, steps down from his position.

Speaking to The Times, an unnamed top-ten shareholder said that the issue of CEO succession would be key to the corporate governance debate later this year. Referring to the recent speculation that shareholders might be up in arms over plans to raise Sir Tom’s pay by as much as 50% [[19/01/05e]], the shareholder told The Times: “Sir Tom McKillop’s pay package is not the problem. We are far more concerned at the apparent lack of a successor at the company. It is our intention to make the issue a cornerstone of the debate around corporate governance this year.” The company would not comment on the speculation, but confirmed that Sir Tom had been due to retire in March 2005 when reaches 62, but last year he agreed to extend his term beyond this at the board’s request.

The issue comes to a head at a time when AZ is still reeling from three major setbacks. Exanta (ximelegatran), a clotbuster considered a key product in firm’s pipeline, was rejected by the US Food and Drug Administration in October [[11/10/04b]], then the safety of its cholesterol-lowering drug Crestor (rosuvastatin) was questioned [[11/01/05a]], [[27/11/04d]], and trial data have revealed that there was no overall survival benefit amongst patients taking its non-small cell lung cancer agent, Iressa (gefitinib) [[05/01/05a]], [[20/12/04b]]. The Independent newspaper claims that shareholders will also ask Sir Tom to waive the £1 million pound bonus he is set to receive for last year.