Biotech and Pharma

Pfizer and AstraZeneca, an international jumble?

UK MPs grill Pfizer-AstraZeneca CEOs
UK MPs grill Pfizer-AstraZeneca CEOs

Pfizer's $106 billion offer to buy AstraZeneca is currently anything but a cordial agreement.

But, given the nationalities of the key players at a U.K. hearing on the potential deal Tuesday, one panel member drew on the "Entente Cordiale," the 1904 agreement between Great Britain and France that established diplomatic cooperation between the countries before World War I.

Why? AstraZeneca Chief Executive Pascal Soriot is French, and he stands to defend the British drugmaker from American giant Pfizer. Pfizer, of course, is led by Scottish-born Ian Read, to add yet another dimension.

Despite Read's background (he also was educated in England), the panel didn't go easy on him, demanding answers about Pfizer's plans for cutting jobs and research spending in the U.K.

Read MorePfizer-AstraZeneca deal? Not as crazy as it sounds

"Mr. Read, your company has been variously described by the former chief executive of AstraZeneca as a praying mantis; a former employee of Pfizer's, I think the chief scientific officer, described your company as a shark that needs feeding," began the committee chair, Adrian Bailey. "If I can extend the zoological analogies, what can you say that can assure this committee that this particular leopard is about to change its spots?"

As it happened, not a whole lot.

Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

When pressed about whether a combined Pfizer-AstraZeneca would maintain its current level of research and development spending, Read replied, "It's not the percentage of sales we spend on research, it's how productive it is. So I do not expect that the combined total will remain the same, I suspect it will be lower. How much lower, at this stage I cannot give a figure on that."

For his part, AstraZeneca's Soriot warned of the disruption a potential merger would bring, interrupting the company's ability to develop drugs.

Read MoreAstraZeneca CEO: Bid would distract us

"Any distraction from what we are doing now would certainly run the risk of delaying our pipeline," Soriot told the panel.

Bailey concluded the questioning of Soriot with his "Entente Cordiale" joke, asking whether it should "trump the special relationships in our situation."

Soriot's response? Despite the accent, he said, he actually feels Australian.

"My kids live in Australia, my grandson is a 5-year-old purebred Australian, I will retire in Australia," Soriot said. "My accent doesn't tell you this, but I am Australian."

—By CNBC's Meg Tirrell.