MPs to probe Pfizer’s pursuit of AstraZeneca

Pfizer chairman and CEO Ian Read . Picture: Getty
Pfizer chairman and CEO Ian Read . Picture: Getty
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MPs are to investigate US drugmaker Pfizer’s planned $100 billion (£60bn) takeover of British rival AstraZeneca in an effort to stop a drain of scientific research and jobs out of the country.

The parliamentary business, innovation and skills committee is said to be concerned that the deal, which would be the biggest ever foreign acquisition of a UK company, could threaten Britain’s strategic interests.

“We are keen to look closely at it,” committee member Ann McKechin said yesterday. “We will see how events pan out over the next few days, but clearly given the scale of the proposed merger it is important that we consider the impact not just on shareholders, but also on employees and the wider interests of the UK.”

AstraZeneca, Britain’s second-biggest drugmaker behind Glaxo
SmithKline, is an important part of the life sciences sector and employs nearly 7,000 staff here.

Politicians are wary of major foreign takeovers of British businesses since Kraft’s controversial acquisition in 2010 of Cadbury. The US food group promised to keep open a key factory, only to renege soon after the deal was completed.

“The committee previously had a great deal of concern over the Cadbury takeover, so I think this is one we will really have to closely analyse what is on offer,” McKechin said.

Pfizer’s chief executive and chairman is Ian Read, a Scot who joined the drugs giant in 1978 after studying engineering at London’s Imperial College and qualifying as an accountant.

Read, 60, became the group’s boss four years ago, and was heavily criticised in 2011 for putting up the shutters at most of its factory in Sandwich, Kent with the loss of 2,000 jobs.

It is the factory where Pfizer’s flagship product Viagra, the erectile dysfunction treatment, was invented. The site still employs 800 workers.

Read is in Britain to lobby politicians and investors about his plans.

The government has adopted a neutral public stance, but officials are warning the firm against making big research job cuts, industry sources said.