Pfizer offers legal guarantees over AstraZeneca bid

UK firm AstraZeneca AstraZeneca has not welcomed the Pfizer approach

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US drug giant Pfizer has said commitments to preserve UK science jobs - if it wins a $106bn (£63bn) takeover of AstraZeneca - are legally binding.

Pfizer has given a five-year promise to complete an AstraZeneca research centre in Cambridge, keep a factory in Macclesfield, Cheshire, and place a fifth of research staff in the UK.

The pledge comes ahead of a Commons committee appearance by Pfizer bosses.

Pfizer said its promises were binding "as a matter of English law".

But it also said it could adjust the promises if circumstances changed "significantly".

Our business editor reports that the government is hoping the regulator that oversees takeovers, the Takeover Panel, will be able to ensure Pfizer's promises are met.

Science worries

Pfizer's chief executive Ian Read faces questions from UK politicians on the Commons business select committee on Tuesday about the proposed takeover.

The committee will also quiz AstraZeneca's French boss Pascal Soriot and business minister Vince Cable on Tuesday.

Start Quote

By making it part of the offer document, the government believes that "legally binding" does have some force. It was the Takeover Panel that censured Kraft for its failure to honour commitments to the Somerdale factory it made during its purchase of Cadbury.”

End Quote

The executive pair, and science minister David Willetts, will then appear before the Commons science select committee a day later

If Pfizer is successful, it would be the largest foreign takeover of a UK firm.

As well as by AstraZeneca itself, the takeover is opposed by many scientists, politicians and trade unions.

Four British scientific bodies - the Society of Biology, Biochemical Society, British Pharmacological Society and Royal Society of Chemistry - have warned that recent mergers and acquisitions have led to lab closures, threatening the research base.

'Powerhouse'

Meanwhile, the GMB and Unite unions have asked Business Secretary Vince Cable to "use the powers we believe he has to stop the acquisition of AstraZeneca".

Pfizer has claimed the merger would create "a UK-based scientific powerhouse". The firm - which makes drugs including Viagra - has a global workforce of more than 70,000, with 2,500 in the UK.

AstraZeneca has eight sites in the UK and about 6,700 employees, with a global workforce of 51,000.

Its board has said the offer - the second Pfizer has made - was too low, and that it believed a major driver for the takeover was the move to establish a tax residence in the UK by changing its company structure.

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