Who gets the best deal from Pfizer’s proposed takeover of AstraZeneca? On the basis of today’s Business, Innovation and Skills select committee hearing with some of the key players, the answer is probably Conservative MP Brian Binley. He was very much enjoying his role in the hearing as he interrogated the boss of Pfizer, Ian Read, and his colleagues Frank D’Amelio and Jonathan Emms.
Binley managed to get the best one-liners out of the session (he’s got form: this is the MP who has in the past few years managed to describe his Prime Minister as a ‘chambermaid’ and a ‘janitor’), telling the panel that they offered ‘a lot of sales talk, but short on facts’, and accusing Read of being a ‘salesman’.
Read did talk an interesting game, insisting repeatedly that MPs could take him at his word, that ‘we do what we say’. Unfortunately, as he spoke, the weather outside took a turn for the worse, and some of his most serious pledges were accompanied by an ominous roll of thunder.
He also explained the role of an empowering coin that he likes to keep in his pocket. The weather did not react to this development. Apparently the empowering coin has a ‘straight talk’ side and an ‘own it’ side which allows Pfizer staff to have difficult conversations with their superiors. This may come in handy for those AstraZeneca employees who lose their jobs as a result of a takeover if it does go ahead (Read told the committee that ‘I cannot say how many or where’ the job losses would be, but that there would be ‘some reduction in jobs’). Or else it could serve as a warning that Pfizer should not under any circumstances take over this company and force more UK workers to carry empowering coins in their pockets.
But will the deal itself be a good deal for this country? That’s what the MPs were after, and while Pfizer tried to stay reasonably vague, given the game isn’t over, it made clear that the deal would lead to a cut in R&D spending, with the combined research spending of the merged firm lower than that of the companies as they currently stand.
Labour’s Chuka Umunna says the evidence this afternoon ‘reinforces the grave concerns we have about this deal and confirms many of the worst fears of people in the business and science community in the UK’. And the committee didn’t seem particularly optimistic that they could really take Read at his word. He’ll need to dig out that empowering coin a great deal more if Pfizer does pursue the bid.