Pfizer takeover bid: MPs write to Willetts to sound warnings

A committee of MPs has written to David Willetts over the potential risks to UK science of the proposed takeover of AstraZeneca by US giant Pfizer.

May 15, 2014

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee says in the letter that the short-term assurances Pfizer has given the government about research and development capacity can be of “little value” as the pharmaceutical industry measures progress in “decades rather than years”.

The letter, signed by the committee’s chair, Labour MP Andrew Miller, says that the pharmaceutical industry is “vital” to UK science and accounts for around 25 per cent of all commercial research and development. It also employs 2,000 “highly skilled” British scientists.

“AstraZeneca forms an extremely important part of this landscape. As such, the national stake in the proposed transaction with Pfizer is unusually high: any threat to AstraZeneca’s research capacity must, to an extent, be considered a threat to UK science,” the letter says.

The MPs warn Mr Willetts, the universities and science minister, that the government “cannot ignore the risks”.

“Science is a long-term enterprise and it requires a genuinely long-term commitment. We are not yet convinced that this is what Pfizer is offering,” the letter says.

Pfizer has pledged to base 20 per cent of its research and development staff in the UK for five years in the event of a takeover.

But the chief executive of the company, Ian Read, admitted when grilled by the Commons Business, Innovation and Skills committee on 13 May that the research and development spend of any combined company would be reduced.

The MPs from the Science and Technology Committee say that Pfizer should “strengthen” and “lengthen” the promises it has made to the government. They add that the government must be willing and able to hold Pfizer to account if needed.

“We support the Government’s efforts to attract foreign investment, but this must not be at the expense of UK science,” the letter concludes.

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Reader's comments (1)

Too little of UK State funded research in our universities seems to have translated across to industry and commerce. Moreover much of the latter appears not to have developed the necessary matching R&D capability, pharmaceuticals perhaps being an exception, hence presumably the current M&A concerns. Maybe more self supporting Research Institutes and Catapult centres combining successful university research teams and industrial collaborators will better drive QR/HEIF/RC basic research forward to commercialisation, so that we eventually have strong R&D in more sectors.

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