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UK politicians wade into pharma mega-deal

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has attempted to reassure UK politicians over its attempts to buy AstraZeneca, as political parties traded blows over the potential merger.

AstraZeneca today rejected an improved offer of approximately £50 (US$84) per AstraZeneca share from New York-based Pfizer, which would have valued the London-based company at around £63 billion ($106 billion).

As well as releasing this new bid, Pfizer today took the unusual move of sending a public letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, after a number of commentators expressed fears that a merger could devastate the UK research ecosystem if the resulting company slashed research and development (R&D). In 2011 Pfizer shocked many observers in the United Kingdom when it closed the Sandwich research park as part of global cuts to research.

“We recognize that our approach [to buy AstraZeneca] may create uncertainty for the UK Government and scientific community,” says the letter. It also commits Pfizer to setting its corporate and tax headquarters in the United Kingdom, completing AstraZeneca’s planned research site in Cambridge and employing at least 20% of the merged company’s R&D work force in the country.

On BBC radio this morning the government’s science minister sparred with his opposition number over the merger.

“We have been having very tough conversations with Pfizer and have made it clear to them that the British government attaches great importance to the R&D activities happening here in Britain and also manufacturing,” said science minister David Willetts. He added the government would expect Pfizer to commit to R&D and manufacturing in the United Kingdom if there were a merger but that this would ultimately be a decision for the AstraZeneca stakeholders.

But his counterpart in the opposition, shadow science minister Chuka Umunna, said that Pfizer has a “very poor” record on previous purchases, which had led to “deep cuts” in research facilities, and that the government was not doing enough to protect UK research.

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