Pfizer will almost certainly have to offer more than its second bid of £50 a share for rival drug giant AstraZeneca, but the American predator seems to be winning the game of spin so far. For a start, Pfizer chief Ian Read turns out to be a Scottish-born graduate of Imperial College London who has spent his entire career with the company. AstraZeneca, by contrast, is run by a Frenchman, Pascal Soriot, under a Swedish chairman, Leif Johansson, both parachuted in two years ago – reminders that Astra Zeneca is already a multinational with its research facilities divided between Cheshire and Sweden and less than 15 per cent of its workforce based in the UK, and that it has recently recovered from a period of underperformance that provoked the departure of its previous top team.
Ed Miliband’s verbiage about the need for powers to block bids that threaten ‘British jobs and science’ already looks like what it is: opportunism that reveals ignorance and antipathy towards business. Read’s reassurance to David Cameron of ‘long-term commitment to the UK’ may not be worth much as the winds of globalisation blow, but the attractiveness of the UK as a tax base for what could be the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical group is evidently a cause for celebration for George Osborne.
Former AstraZeneca chief executive Sir David Barnes has called Pfizer a ‘praying mantis’ that will ‘suck the lifeblood’ out of his old company, but a more significant voice is that of the doyen of the industry, former GlaxoSmithKline head Sir Richard Sykes, who says ‘ownership is irrelevant’ so long as there’s every encouragement for such companies to ‘do their drug discovery and development here’. In short, the game is Pfizer’s for the taking, when the price is right.
This is an extract from Martin Vander Weyer’s Any Other Business column in next week’s magazine. Click here to read for free with a trial of The Spectator app for iPad and iPhone. You can also subscribe with a free trial on the Kindle Fire.