City Star Woodford To Meet Pfizer Boss Read
The City's most prominent fund manager will meet the boss of Pfizer this week for talks about the US pharmaceuticals giant's proposed £63bn takeover of AstraZeneca.
Sky News has learnt that Neil Woodford, an influential figure in the Square Mile, is to meet Ian Read, Pfizer's chief executive, just days after expressing scepticism about the potential deal.
Mr Woodford, who launched his investment management business this month after leaving Invesco Perpetual, may prove to be a key figure in Pfizer's battle to win control of AstraZeneca despite managing only a small stake in the British-based drug-maker.
"A cashing-out exercise is no use to me - there isn't another AstraZeneca out there," he said last week.
He also questioned the legitimacy of Pfizer's pledge to base at least 20% of a merged group's research and development staff in the UK.
Mr Woodford said that and other commitments were "not set in stone" or legally-binding, an assertion contradicted on Monday by Pfizer, whose best-known products include Viagra.
On Tuesday, Mr Read will appear before MPs on the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee, when he is likely to face hostile questioning about the motivation for his interest in AstraZeneca.
Anders Borg, Sweden's finance minister, told Sky News on Monday that Pfizer's track record with major takeovers was a cause for concern.
"Our experience is rather bad when it comes to Pfizer," he said.
"AstraZeneca has been a well-functioning alliance between the UK and Sweden, it is a major exporter and taxpayer and a very important part of our life science business," he said.
"It is clear that we are worried [given] Pfizer's long history of taking over companies. In Sweden they gave the impression that they had a commitment to life sciences but a couple of years later the business had shrunk.
"In the long run it is a clear risk that they will cut back on research and development and jobs in the UK and Sweden."
Mr Read will also meet other leading AstraZeneca investors during his visit to the UK this week, many of which have backed the rejection of Pfizer's latest £50-a-share proposal.
The value of that offer fluctuates depending upon Pfizer's own share price, meaning that a further offer is likely to need to be pitched significantly higher if it is to convince AstraZeneca shareholders to sell.
The British company's chief executive, Pascal Soriot, and Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, will also give evidence to MPs on Tuesday.