UK's Cameron says making good progress on Pfizer guarantees

Sun May 11, 2014 10:00am EDT
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LONDON May 11 (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Sunday he had made very good progress in securing guarantees from Pfizer over the U.S. drugmaker's $106 billion bid to buy AstraZeneca.

Pfizer's pursuit of Britain's second-largest drugmaker has sparked a political storm in Britain, with the government initially accused of acting as cheerleader for what would be the country's largest foreign takeover.

With the opposition Labour party leading the complaints, Cameron is now seeking to protect jobs and scientific research while also sending the message that Britain remains open to investment from foreign companies.

"I think the right thing to do is to engage," Cameron told BBC Television. "To get stuck in with these companies, as I've done and my team of ministers has done, to make sure we get good guarantees and the best deal for Britain. We've made some very good progress."

Pfizer has already given a five-year commitment to complete AstraZeneca's new research centre in Cambridge, retain a factory in the northwestern English town of Macclesfield and put a fifth of its research staff in Britain if the deal goes ahead.

But the U.S. firm has also said it could adjust those promises if circumstances change "significantly", prompting demands for more watertight pledges.

"Don't underestimate the power of some of the things they have already said, about making sure, for instance, that 20 percent of their R&D jobs will be here in the UK," Cameron said. "Now I want more."

Pfizer on Saturday sought to fight back against the mounting criticism, saying Britain's expertise in research was a key reason for the deal. Chief Executive Ian Read will take that message with him when he appears before two panels of British lawmakers this week to face questions over the takeover.

Pfizer is widely expected to come back with a sweetened offer for AstraZeneca this week, though people familiar with the matter said it was likely to wait until after the select committee hearings on May 13 and 14.   Continued...