British lawmaker expects Pfizer to court AstraZeneca shareholders

LONDON Mon May 19, 2014 6:04am EDT

LONDON May 19 (Reuters) - U.S. drugmaker Pfizer is likely to court major investors in AstraZeneca as part of a takeover attempt despite a board rejection of its 70 billion pounds ($118 billion) bid, the head of Britain's parliamentary science committee said.

Pfizer had sought to create the world's largest drugs company with a takeover attempt that has met fierce opposition from AstraZeneca and many British lawmakers who say the New York-based company could cut jobs and research in Britain.

When asked if the AstraZeneca board rejection of the 55 pound-a-share offer was the end of the takeover bid, Andrew Miller, chairman of the British parliament's Science and Technology Committee, said: "I don't think so".

"I think it is almost certain that they will come back and speak to the larger shareholders over the next few days," Miller, a lawmaker from the opposition Labour party, told Reuters by telephone.

Miller, who called the bosses of Pfizer and AstraZeneca before his committee earlier this month to explain the takeover, said Pfizer should giver "much firmer and longer guarantees".

Miller said that Britain had still not got the guarantees it needed from Pfizer and that while the government could intervene by negotiating directly with Pfizer, if the shareholders approved a deal then it would ultimately go ahead.

Earlier Aberdeen Asset Management, a leading investor in AstraZeneca, said the U.S. group had room to offer more than 55 pounds per share.

Chief Investment Officer Anne Richards told BBC radio: "I think it's a good price that's on the table at the moment but probably they could do better than that."

Miller said it was interesting that at least one of the institutional investors had expressed concerns about how any takeover would affect the science pipeline.

"If institutional shareholders are also expressing concern about the pipeline issues then that rather suggests that Pfizer have genuinely got to go further."

But if Pfizer tries to do a deal with shareholders, it risks stiffening domestic political opposition in Britain.

"My dearest wish is that Pfizer keep to their commitment not to turn this into a hostile takeover," Labour Business Spokesman Chuka Umunna told the BBC. Labour has called on the government to put any takeover to a public interest test.

"If it did become hostile this would be deeply damaging to the company," Umunna said. "I welcome what the board have done here, I think it is the right decision."

(Editing by Kate Holton)

Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.