AstraZeneca bid talk 'a commercial matter': UK finance minister

CAMBRIDGE, England Fri Apr 25, 2014 8:44am EDT

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne arrives for a G20 ministerial meeting, during the IMF/World Bank 2014 Spring Meetings in Washington April 11, 2014. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne arrives for a G20 ministerial meeting, during the IMF/World Bank 2014 Spring Meetings in Washington April 11, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Joshua Roberts

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CAMBRIDGE, England (Reuters) - Talk of a $100 billion bid by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer (PFE.N) for its British rival AstraZeneca (AZN.L) is "a commercial matter between the companies", Britain's finance minister George Osborne said on Friday.

Shares in Britain's second biggest drugs group hit record highs this week on the bid speculation. Both companies have declined to comment on a weekend newspaper report that AstraZeneca spurned an approach from Pfizer earlier this year.

Several analysts believe Pfizer may be tempted back by AstraZeneca's pipeline of cancer drugs, as well as the potential to cut costs and make use of cash accumulated through foreign subsidiaries that would be taxed if repatriated to the U.S.

Asked about the matter after delivering a speech on the economic importance of Britain's science base, Osborne said the reports were speculative and declined to comment on any possible government involvement.

"It's a commercial matter between the companies," he said. "I note that AstraZeneca has not put out any market statement, which is something people's attention should be drawn to, but I don't think I should comment further on that commercial matter."

Acquiring AstraZeneca would be the biggest ever foreign takeover of a British company and the suggested deal has triggered worries about jobs in Britain's pharmaceuticals sector, which is viewed as a key industry by the government.

The healthcare sector is in the middle of a wave of deal-making, with Novartis (NOVN.VX) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) this week agreeing to trade more than $20 billion worth of assets and Zimmer (ZMH.N) agreeing to buy rival orthopedic products maker Biomet LVBHAB.UL for $13 billion.

Valeant Pharmaceuticals (VRX.TO), meanwhile, is in a $47 billion bid battle to buy Botox maker Allergan (AGN.N).

(Writing by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Sophie Walker)

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