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Pharmaceutical industry

UK Government may block Pfizer’s bid for AstraZeneca

Business secretary Vince Cable told MPs on Tuesday afternoon that the Government may intervene in the proposed merger of US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer with the UK-based AstraZeneca on public-interest grounds.

Cable was reluctant to tell members of the House of Commons Business Innovations and Skills Committee the details of any such move. “The legal issues are very complex,” he told MPs.

Cable claimed there is a “national interest” in the proposed takeover, with the Government being a major stakeholder because of its investment in R&D and because of the impact of the pharmaceutical industry on the NHS.

One option available to the Government is to extend the definition of the public interest test to cover research and development (R&D) and science. “It’s all quite tricky and there is a European framework in which we have to work.”

On Tuesday morning, AstraZeneca warned MPs that the development of new drugs could be delayed if any merger went ahead. “A merger of this magnitude would create a distraction which would delay some of our products,” AstraZeneca’s chief executive Pascal Soriot told MPs. “We run the risk of delays in our pipeline.”

Despite Soriot’s concerns about the impact of any deal on drug development, he could not give an assurance that AstraZeneca would not accept a future offer from Pfizer.

In its evidence to the committee, Pfizer admitted that any merger would bring global job losses and the company’s global R&D budget would be cut. However, Pfizer boss Ian Read told MPs that he could not say how many jobs would go in the UK and how a merger would affect the UK’s R&D programme.  

He did, however, reiterate Pfizer’s commitment that 20% of the merged company’s R&D workforce would be based in the UK. “I can’t give you any formal numbers as we haven’t sat down with AstraZeneca. The commitment is that 20% of the global company’s research and development workforce will be in the UK — that is an unprecedented commitment.”

Royal Pharmaceutical Society view

In a statement issued on Tuesday morning, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society said it wanted to see the UK remain a world leader in pharmaceutical science. “What will hurt the UK’s chance of contributing to new treatments for patients is erosion of the pharmaceutical science base in the UK,” said RPS chief scientist Jayne Lawrence. “It is the UK where pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists have and continue to develop novel treatments both in the pharmaceutical industry and academic institutions. Although it may be true that mergers can lead to redundancies it’s also true that pharmaceutical science jobs have been outsourced from the UK already.”

Lawrence said the RPS wants to see a long-term commitment to the research base in the UK, whether it is from multinationals or small biotech firms. “We want it to be this country where a scientist makes the next breakthrough and that will only happen if the Government incentivises investment in R&D and science jobs regardless of who is the employer.”


Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.11138347

Readers' comments (2)

  • I think that it would be difficult to block the Pfizer take over. Also, Vince Cable did not give a commitment to do so. As legally he can't and his statement to the Parliamentary Select Commitee he stated that:



      He told MPs on the Business Select Committee: "The framework which we have under the act, as you know, confines the public interest test quite narrowly and, of course, all of that takes place within the framework of European merger law."

     The PJ report is inaccurate



    Gerry Diamond

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  • Dear Mr Diamond,  

    Thank you for your comment. We stand by the accuracy of our report. Vince Cable gave no commitment to intervene but suggested that the Government might do so. He conceded that it would be difficult and that the public interest test would need to be redefined. Our report reflects this.  

    Best wishes  

    Harriet Adcock

    News editor

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