Law should change to halt Pfizer/AZ deal: UK MPs

The U.K.'s takeover regulations should change so that the government can stop Pfizer taking over AstraZeneca if it wants to, an influential group of U.K. members of parliament (MPs) has said.

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Ian Read, Pfizer chief executive, put the case for the company's $106 billion bid for AstraZeneca in front of the Science and Technology Select Committee on Wednesday – but they did not appear to have been convinced by his commitments to U.K. jobs if the bid was successful.

"The Government must be willing –and, crucially, able - to hold Pfizer to account if necessary," the MPs wrote in a letter to the Science Minister, which was made public.

This infers that the laws governing takeovers in the U.K., which currently only allow the government to intervene in defense, media and banking, might be expanded to include pharmaceuticals, specifically to combat Pfizer's attempts to gain control of AstraZeneca.

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In response, Pfizer said British science was "at the heart" of its vision for a tie-up with AstraZeneca, adding that it had made "unprecedented commitments" to the U.K..

"These commitments have been made without an opportunity to fully assess what the combined company would look like. Every business must maintain flexibility to adapt to an ever changing business environment. Giving assurances for a minimum of five years is a long term commitment for any company," Pfizer said in a statement.

The bid, which was rejected out of hand by AstraZeneca management, has been criticized for being partly motivated by tax, and for potentially leading to a reduction in headcount for scientists employed by both companies in the U.K.

Read committed to keeping 20 percent of Pfizer's global research and development in the U.K. for five years post-acquisition, which he accurately pointed out is an "unprecedented" level of commitment for the U.S. giant.

There has already been an unprecedented level of scrutiny of Pfizer's intentions for AstraZeneca, with MPs from the opposition Labour Party in particular piling in to criticize the bid.

Worries at AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca's research and development workers may be right to be anxious about their future, despite Pfizer's head of research and development Mikael Dolsten's words about creating a "powerhouse of science" through the merger.

An analysis of patents filed by the two companies, by ANT Works, an Amsterdam-based R&D analytics start-up backed by Dutch and Silicon Valley investment, suggests that "there are very few areas where AstraZeneca can claim to be unique to Pfizer."

Pfizer is also more dominant than the smaller company in over 80 percent of the areas where the companies overlap.

"Given Pfizer's handling of previous acquisitions and the vast overlap between the two firms' scientific and technological characteristics, it is unlikely that AstraZeneca's R&D departments will feel secure about their futures," ANT Works warned.