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Pfizer will be hard to stop

The pattern of the global pharmaceutical industry has long been towards cross-border mergers that combine research strength, market access and the capital needed to sustain new drugs through multinational approval processes.The UK has done well in this game, with excellent laboratory work and two giants still headquartered here, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca. The latter is part-Swedish but has 6,700 British staff and a heritage that descends from the pharmaceuticals business of ICI, greatest of 20th-century British industrial names.

So alarm bells rang with the announcement at the beginning of the week of a takeover bid by Pfizer of the US, which has at least two counts against it: it is suspected of needing a big overseas acquisition more for tax efficiency than for strategic synergy; and it closed down its UK research centre at Sandwich in 2012, even though it was Pfizer’s British research team that invented Viagra, the company’s most money-spinning product.


It’s an exaggeration to claim that the bid threatens the entire UK ‘science base’, but it’s certainly unwelcome at a time when inventions, patents and general brain-power are recognised as key elements of long-term economic recovery. But however much Vince Cable huffs and puffs, the bid will be impossible to stop if Pfizer comes up with a price that pleases international investors who hold AstraZeneca’s stock.

This is an extract from Martin Vander Weyer’s Any Other Business? column in this week’s Spectator. Click here to subscribe to the Spectator.

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  • Mynydd

    Mr Osborne told the Chinese to look on London as a tax haven, now Mr Cameron is telling Pfizer London is a good tax haven, but please give me a bit of paper to stop Mr Miliband calling for it to meet strict national interest criteria.

  • RavenRandom

    Pfizer is just going to asset strip it. All their promises will be worth nothing when it goes wrong. In 2008 American companies virtually abandoned their European subsidiaries. Dark times always come. You need businesses located in the UK.
    I know we can buy their companies and frequently do, I don’t know whether AstraZeneca meets a national interest criteria… perhaps it should.

  • you_kid

    if it cannot be fixed, don’t break it.

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