Pfizer: Miliband attacks 'worthless assurances' on jobs

David Cameron and Ed Miliband argue about possible job losses over the Pfizer bid for AstraZeneca.

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Pfizer's assurances about its proposed takeover of AstraZeneca are "worthless", Ed Miliband has claimed.

The Labour leader said there was nothing to stop the UK drugs company being "carved up" and urged ministers to introduce a new test to determine if the deal was in the UK's interests.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he was seeking the "strongest possible" guarantees about jobs and investment.

The US firm has insisted it would honour five-year pledges on research.

The two leaders clashed over the controversial bid for the second week at Prime Minister's Questions.

Mr Miliband accused the prime minister of acting as a "PR man" for Pfizer's bid and of negotiating "over the heads" of AstraZeneca's board of directors about the impact of a prospective deal.

The Labour leader said the government should block the bid unless certain safeguards were met.

The UK has public interest laws governing certain takeovers, such as those involving defence and media interests, but not for science.

The prime minister said Mr Miliband was responsible for watering down the law when he was a minister in the last Labour government and criticised him for turning down a meeting with Pfizer last month.

'Unprecedented'

AstraZeneca has rejected Pfizer's indicative £63bn bid but its head has said he would be bound to consider a new offer - with a higher price a key factor.

Pfizer executive Mikael Dolsten Mr Dolsten said the merger could help improve cancer drugs

Appearing before MPs on Wednesday, Pfizer chief executive Ian Read said the company would honour its "unprecedented" commitments to maintain 20% of research and development operations in the UK and safeguard the future of specific plants in Macclesfield and Cambridge.

"I would like the committee to tell me a [past] commitment that Pfizer has not met," he said.

The combined firm, he suggested to the Commons science committee, would not "under-invest" in the business but he could not put a figure on the number of scientists that a merged company would employ.

"I really do not know how many scientists we will have when we put the two together. We do not have enough data to know that.

"But I suspect there will be less scientists in the natural arithmetic combination of the two but I have no way of knowing... we may be surprised. We may go in and look at their portfolio and see stuff we were not aware of."

Shareholder value

The head of R&D for Pfizer, Mikael Dolsten, said the two firms had mutual interests in key areas, such as oncology and inflammation drugs, which could result in major advances in treatments.

AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot and fellow executives giving evidence AstraZeneca bosses said they had strong links with the scientific community

"There is a lot of opportunity for a powerhouse of science coming together.

"The companies have complementary drugs in lung cancer... and if you have a portfolio like that you could have an aspiration to provide much better outcomes for patients. Instead of thinking about weeks and months, combination drugs from the two companies could offer outcomes of many years and longer."

But AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot, who was also giving evidence, said the strength of the AstraZeneca's drug pipeline - 70% of which is developed in the UK - meant that it could "stand on its own two feet".

He suggested that merging the two firms' R&D operations, which are primarily based in the US, Germany and the UK, could lead to "substantial disruption" and the business turning inwards.

"A company is a little bit more complicated than putting two pieces of paper together," he said.

On Tuesday, Mr Soriot told the BBC's Newsnight programme that he would consider a bid from Pfizer if the offer price increased, as it had a duty to its shareholders.

But he told MPs that price was not the only factor and the way the two businesses were integrated would be "critical" in delivering future value for shareholders.

Also giving evidence, Mr Willetts said in the event of a takeover, the government would demand "robust commitments" and expect Pfizer to "stick to" them.

Asked about the five-year commitment, Mr Willetts said he "would like to see a longer period than that".

graphic about company size

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