LONDON May 11 British Prime Minister David
Cameron said on Sunday he had made very good progress in
securing guarantees from Pfizer over the U.S.
drugmaker's $106 billion bid to buy AstraZeneca.
Pfizer's pursuit of Britain's second-largest drugmaker has
sparked a political storm in Britain, with the government
initially accused of acting as cheerleader for what would be the
country's largest foreign takeover.
With the opposition Labour party leading the complaints,
Cameron is now seeking to protect jobs and scientific research
while also sending the message that Britain remains open to
investment from foreign companies.
"I think the right thing to do is to engage," Cameron told
BBC Television. "To get stuck in with these companies, as I've
done and my team of ministers has done, to make sure we get good
guarantees and the best deal for Britain. We've made some very
Pfizer has already given a five-year commitment to complete
AstraZeneca's new research centre in Cambridge, retain a factory
in the northwestern English town of Macclesfield and put a fifth
of its research staff in Britain if the deal goes ahead.
But the U.S. firm has also said it could adjust those
promises if circumstances change "significantly", prompting
demands for more watertight pledges.
"Don't underestimate the power of some of the things they
have already said, about making sure, for instance, that 20
percent of their R&D jobs will be here in the UK," Cameron said.
"Now I want more."
Pfizer on Saturday sought to fight back against the mounting
criticism, saying Britain's expertise in research was a key
reason for the deal. Chief Executive Ian Read will take that
message with him when he appears before two panels of British
lawmakers this week to face questions over the takeover.
Pfizer is widely expected to come back with a sweetened
offer for AstraZeneca this week, though people familiar with the
matter said it was likely to wait until after the select
committee hearings on May 13 and 14.
The British group has rejected successive approaches from
its larger American rival, and Chief Executive Pascal Soriot has
been on a roadshow with advisers to meet leading investors and
lay out his strategy for a prosperous independent future.
Soriot has secured the backing of several high-profile
shareholders, but others have told Reuters they would like him
to engage with Pfizer if the U.S. group makes an improved offer.
Under British takeover rules, Pfizer has until May 26 to
make a firm bid for AstraZeneca or walk away.
Though the government has only limited legal power to block
any merger, Cameron said his business secretary Vince Cable was
examining the issue of a public interest test and would report
back to parliament to give his findings.
But the Prime Minister, head of the free-market Conservative
Party, noted that Britain did not want to be seen to be pulling
up the drawbridge to foreign companies and said AstraZeneca had
itself benefited from buying foreign companies.
(Reporting by Kate Holton and Ben Hirschler; Editing by Will