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AstraZeneca's Missing Takeover Defense

AstraZeneca's disappointing trial data for its highest-profile drug leaves it vulnerable to a takeover. Unfortunately for investors, the U.K. drugmaker's management lacks the credibility to mount a strong defense that would force any predator to pay a full price. The obstacles to a bid may be more political than financial.

The Cambridge-based pharma group saw its shares fall as much as 17 percent, taking up to 11 billion pounds ($14.5 billion) from its market value, after it revealed poor results for lung cancer treatment Imfinzi. The trials continue but the market's previous optimism has already been dashed.

Setbacks in the lab are part of drug discovery. Blame can't be leveled solely at Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot. Any science company needs an appetite for risk, just as much as the willingness to pull projects that look unlikely to pay off.

Soriot points to successful product launches and other exciting clinical activity as evidence...