Under fire, Pfizer hits back as it weighs next Astra move

Sat May 10, 2014 11:37am EDT
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By Ben Hirschler

LONDON (Reuters) - U.S. drugmaker Pfizer (PFE.N: Quote) fought back on Saturday against criticism that its planned takeover of rival AstraZeneca (AZN.L: Quote) would damage Britain's science base by saying strong UK research was a key reason for the deal.

Given its record of big job cuts after past acquisitions, the U.S. group has come under fire in Britain, the United States and Sweden as it weighs its next move to buy AstraZeneca, which could be a sweetened offer next week.

Chief Executive Ian Read, who is due to appear before two panels of British lawmakers on May 13 and 14, said in a video that the $106 billion deal was a "win-win" for shareholders and society, and merging the two firms' research would be "easy".

The suggested deal would be the largest foreign takeover of a UK company and has provoked a political storm in Britain, with the government seeking binding commitments to protect skilled jobs and scientific research.

Two U.S. state governors with large AstraZeneca workforces have also joined the fray, while the Prime Minister of Sweden -where AstraZeneca has half its roots - has expressed concerns.

The furor in Britain is Read's top priority ahead of his expected grilling by British lawmakers at separate parliamentary committee hearings next week.

Read did not make any fresh pledges on British jobs in his latest comments, which were posted on the U.S. company's website, but he said tapping into AstraZeneca's research and development capacity was an important reason behind the deal.

"When we looked at AZ, we liked their science. We liked where their science is being done, which is in the UK, and we know we have good science in the UK in the Cambridge, Oxford, London and other universities," he said.   Continued...

Ian Read, chief executive officer of Pfizer, addresses a news conference in New York November 5, 2013. REUTERS/Adam Hunger