Pfizer Boss: 'Merger Not A Risk To Lives'
Pfizer boss Ian Read has hit back at claims that a takeover of AstraZeneca would lead to a drug development delay putting lives at risk.
Mr Read told MPs that if anything, a merger with the British-based pharmaceutical firm would accelerate the delivery of products to patients.
And he pledged to ring-fence any important products to ensure they continued to be developed by scientists.
During evidence to the Business, Innovation and Skills committee on Tuesday, the chief of AstraZeneca, Pascal Soriot, had warned MPs patients could die as a result of disruption.
He told MPs: "What would we tell the person whose father died of lung cancer because on of our medicines was delayed because the companies were too busy saving taxes, saving costs?"
Challenged on the concern by politicians on the Science Committee on Wednesday, Mr Read said: "After the acquisition any product that is important, that is close to patients ... within 30 days we would probably do a review, we would ring-fence any important products and they would continue to be developed.
"There is absolutely no truth to any comment that some products of critical nature would be delayed getting to patients. If anything we would accelerate that to patients."
Despite stressing his concerns about the risk to patients, Mr Soroit told MPs on Tuesday that were the price right then he would have to consider a merger because of his duty to shareholders.
MPs on the Science Committee pointed out that the two matters appeared to be at odds and asked what was most important to him: the merger not disrupting drug supply, or price. Mr Soroit said both were important and he would look for the right package.
Both Mr Soroit and Mr Read forecast that there would be job losses were the companies to merge, with an AstraZeneca executive telling MPs that one plus one does not equal two, but one-and-a-bit.
Mr Read repeated his guarantee that were the £63bn proposed bid for AstraZeneca successful then 20% of the new firm's research and development workforce would be based in the UK.
He reiterated that the guarantee was legally binding for five years, under Takeover Panel rules, and that it would include a commitment to AstraZeneca's new Cambridge site.
However, MPs said the company's reputation was such that "your word is not to be trusted".
Mr Read replied: "People who talk to me don't say my word is not trusted, so I don't really know who you are talking about. What commitments haven't we met?"
MPs expressed significant concern over the potential for job losses among AstraZeneca's 6,700 British-based staff and the effect it would have on British science.
Science minister David Willetts told MPs that it was for shareholders and not governments to decide on these matters but would not be drawn on what steps could be taken to intervene.
He said he would like to see the jobs guarantee from Pfizer extended above five years and that the Government was talking with the drugs company to try to achieve the right deal for British science.
AstraZeneca has dismissed Pfizer's bid and will either need to increase the money on offer, or put in an official bid by May 26.