Page last updated at 17:26 GMT, Wednesday, 21 May 2008 18:26 UK

End of an era for Glaxo's Garnier

Jean-Pierre Garnier
Jean-Pierre Garnier revamped drug development at GSK

Jean-Pierre Garnier bowed out as chief executive of the global drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline(GSK) on Wednesday.

After eight years at the helm of the merged company, he is stepping aside for the new boss Andrew Witty.

The departing chief pointed to the company's strong pipeline of drugs in development.

But analysts say its weak share price reflects its lack of new blockbuster drugs and tough competition from generic drug manufacturers.

In a final presentation to investors, Mr Garnier said that buying rival Astra Zeneca was not on the cards. Addressing the annual general meeting he added that the firm's top asthma drug was on track for record sales.

"We are going to break 4bn ($7.9bn) of sales this year with Advair," said Mr Garnier.

End of era

The change at the top at GSK marks the end of an era for the 60-year old Frenchman, known as JP in the industry.

Mr Garnier was in charge when Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham merged in 2000.

Back then, there were just two drugs in the pipeline, but he leaves his successor with more than 160 drugs in development.

Just this week, GSK won approval from European authorities for a vaccine designed to protect people against the deadly strain of bird flu.

Jean-Pierre Garnier's legacy
GlaxoSmithKline HQ
Overhauled research & development
Bigger drugs pipeline
Shareholder revolt over pay
Falling share value

He overhauled research and development (R&D), re-organising the department into smaller, entrepreneurial teams to produce more innovative drugs and vaccines.

But while few would doubt Mr Garnier's achievements, he has caused controversy too.

Fat cat revolt

Today's shareholder gathering was a friendly affair compared with five years ago.

Then, the GSK boss faced the biggest rebellion a major listed company had ever seen.

Investors voted against his 18m pay deal, seen as excessive in light of the company's poor performance, a turning point in the fight against fat cat pay.

The company's reputation has also been dented by safety scares.

Sales of its diabetes treatment, Avandia, were hit last yeat after research linked it to an increase in heart attacks.

Last year, it was also accused of holding evidence about potential side-effects of its anti-depressant drug Seroxat.

Mr Garnier also tried to stop the South African government from sourcing cheaper, generic HIV drugs from countries like India. He later changed tack and offered not-for-profit HIV drugs to the nation.

Challenges ahead

There are several challenges for the new man in charge.

Not least the search for new block buster drugs, and of course, there's the share price: shares have lost 40% of their value since the merger in 2000.

Mr Witty, who takes over on Thursday, played down speculation that GSK may spin off its consumer business.

He said consumer health and emerging markets were key drivers at a time when mainstream pharmaceutical markets faced "choppy waters".

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