AstraZeneca leaves door ajar to Pfizer, despite hurdles

Wed May 14, 2014 5:17pm EDT
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By Ben Hirschler

LONDON (Reuters) - AstraZeneca's boss said on Wednesday he would engage with Pfizer if the price was right and the risks posed from forcing the British drugmaker's operations into the U.S. company's new three-unit model were addressed.

Chief Executive Pascal Soriot stressed his company had a bright future as a stand-alone firm but acknowledged that shareholders would expect AstraZeneca's board to negotiate if terms were sufficiently attractive in a sweetened offer.

"Every shareholder says at the right level with the right offer you should consider it - that is very clear. But there is nobody who has told us a specific price at which we should engage," he told Reuters in an interview.

"If the offer was reflecting the value of the company but also addressing some of the integration aspects, the operating model and execution risks we are concerned about, then we certainly should engage - there's no doubt."

Soriot and his team have held talks with the group's leading investors during a round of meetings in London, Sweden and the United States over the past week.

Pfizer made a cash-and-stock takeover approach on May 2 worth 50 pounds a share to create the world's largest drugs company, valuing AstraZeneca at $106 billion. The bid was promptly dismissed by the British group's board - a decision that Soriot said had the firm backing of investors.

"There is no single shareholder who has told me or our CFO (chief financial officer) or our chairman that we should have accepted the offer," he said.

Buoyed by progress with its new drug pipeline - including a lung cancer medicine called AZD9291 for which data was released late on Wednesday - Soriot believes AstraZeneca can enjoy a strong independent future, but he has left the door ajar to a compelling offer.   Continued...

A sign is seen at an AstraZeneca site in Macclesfield, central England April 28, 2014. REUTERS/Darren Staples