AstraZeneca – up for sale?

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In the news today is the announcement that UK pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has been approached by chemical giant Pfizer, who are offering billions of dollars for a merger with them.

Share prices for the company have soared since the news broke earlier today and, if the sale goes through, it will be the biggest ever takeover of a UK business by a foreign company.

AZ is one of Britain’s most important companies, selling £7bn of pharmaceuticals overseas every year. Even after site closures in recent years, the company still employs 7000 people. Pfizer haven’t directly stated that there won’t be job losses if a takeover goes ahead,  but they did say ‘the United Kingdom has created attractive incentives for companies to manufacture products and maintain and protect intellectual property, and we have seen that capital and jobs have followed these types of incentives‘, implying that at least some jobs will be safe.

That being said, the merged company’s head offices will be based in the US, and shares will be sold on the New York stock exchange.

Up until now, AZ have rejected Pfizer’s offers, stating that they significantly undervalued their company. However, Pfizer appear confident that they can be swayed, and talks are continuing into a new deal.

If successful, Pfizer will have access to a range of medicines currently being manufactured by AZ, including anti-cancer drugs and treatments for diabetes.

The face of big pharma in Britain has changed dramatically over the past decade or so, with many chemists moving away from the sector towards small and medium-sized chemical companies for employment. Questions must be asked about whether this merger would benefit the UK chemistry community, especially since Pfizer closed their Sandwich site in 2011, causing thousands of job losses and turning many of their scientists away from this area of chemistry, or indeed from R&D altogether.

At many career evenings I’ve heard that big pharma isn’t the way to go anymore, and personally I feel a bit anxious about Pfizer taking over a company which has already had to downsize its R&D in the UK. The last thing we want to see is more jobs for chemists being lost, and less R&D opportunities being available across Britain.

It’s still early days, and Pfizer are yet to convince AZ and its shareholders that a takeover would be a good idea, so until then, we’ll have to wait and find out what will be decided.

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