Drug development is at risk from proposed takeover of AstraZeneca, MPs are told

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 15 May 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3327
  1. Adrian O’Dowd
  1. 1London

Development of important and potentially lifesaving drugs could be disrupted and delayed if a proposed takeover of AstraZeneca by the giant US drug company Pfizer goes ahead, MPs have been told.

The impact of such a takeover was discussed at an evidence session on 13 May of the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee as part of its inquiry into the future of the UK drug company AstraZeneca.1

Pascal Soriot, chief executive officer of AstraZeneca, appearing before the committee, said that AstraZeneca was a “science led” organisation. He acknowledged that Pfizer was a strong and “effective commercial” company, but added, “We think we are successful and can continue implementing our strategy and go it alone.

“This potential merger would create a sudden worry for me because our people are very focused right now, and a merger of this magnitude would create a distraction that potentially would delay some of our projects.”

The committee’s chairman, Adrian Bailey, the Labour and Co-operative MP for West Bromwich West], asked whether Soriot was saying that the bid would “delay potentially lifesaving drugs coming to market,” to which Soriot replied, “Absolutely.”

Soriot asked, “What will we tell the person whose father died from lung cancer because one of our medicines was delayed—and essentially was delayed because in the meantime our two companies were involved in saving taxes and saving costs?”

He added, “Any distraction from what we are doing now would run the risk of delaying our pipeline.”

Earlier in the evidence session Pfizer defended its record to MPs when Bailey said, “Your company has been variously described by the former chief executive of AstraZeneca as a praying mantis and by a former employee as a shark that needs feeding.

“What can you say that can ensure this committee that this particular leopard is about to change its spots?”

Ian Read, chairman and chief executive of Pfizer, giving evidence, said, “I’m very proud of Pfizer. There’s 80 000 employees, in Pfizer and if the committee had a chance to talk to those colleagues it would find a company of high integrity and a company that’s focused on patients and delivering drugs to patients.”

Asked where efficiencies would be made if the deal went ahead, Read admitted that jobs would be cut and that the research and development budget would be cut.

“There will be some jobs cut somewhere; that’s part of being more efficient. We just don’t know how much, how many, or where,” he said.

MPs asked if there was any assurance that a combined Pfizer and AstraZeneca research and development budget would be the same as the sum of the two separate budgets as they currently stood.

Read replied, “We believe the most important thing is not the percentage of sales we spend on research but how productive it is. I do not expect that the combined total will remain the same; I expect it will be lower. How much lower: I cannot give a figure on that.

“I think it would strengthen the scientific base in the UK to have a company of our size making those types of commitments. I have said that 20% of our global research and development will be in the UK. Has any other company made that promise of our size?”


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3327


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