Pfizer's backer Sir Richard Sykes has been wrong before on drugs firm deals

Outlook As any salesman will tell you, there's nothing like a testimonial to convince a potential buyer. Which is why the highly paid executives Pfizer has hired to flog its takeover of AstraZeneca have found two cheerleaders (only two, mind) to recommend their offer. Both are quoted at length on Pfizer's page-long sales pitch posted on its website.

One is Ian Read. He says the merger would see the two companies' operations in Oxford, Cambridge and London retain their "Golden Triangle" status and be a key part of the combined global business. But Mr Read is the chief executive of Pfizer, so his views are perhaps biased.

The other is Sir Richard Sykes, the former chairman and chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline. Sir Richard describes the merger as a "fantastic opportunity to work in a country with a scientific background". At least, the presentation makes it look like that's what he said. In fact, reading the small print, he seems to have been talking in more general terms about the UK. But hey, that's advertising.

The copywriter's sleight of hand aside, Sir Richard has been one of the few big guns in industry to commend the takeover. Other dignitaries, from Sir Michael Heseltine to Lord Sainsbury, have been vehemently opposed. So Sir Richard is to be applauded for having the guts not to go with the flow. For standing up against the noisy consensus.

It wasn't so, though, when he was chief executive of Glaxo Wellcome and brought his company into the arms of SmithKline Beecham in 2000. That deal, which also created the world's biggest drugs company, ended up being one of the most value destructive, not to mention job destructive. But at the time, Sir Richard trumpeted its "unbelievable financial power" and "vision".

A few years later, when the deal was looking like a flop, Sir Richard admitted he was railroaded by the clamour of investment bankers and fund managers demanding it. Actually, he disclosed, he never really wanted a merger at all. He even penned a report concluding "growth for growth's sake via takeovers has been a prime cause of shareholder value destruction".

Pfizer argues, of course, that this is not just a deal about "growth for growth's sake". It's about avoiding US taxes too.

But let's put that multi-billion dollar tax bonus to one side. Pfizer highlights other selling points: the deal will, it says, "speed development of treatments". Unlikely: scientists fear the merger will disrupt funding of potentially successful projects and disband close-knit research teams.

It talks of how the deal will "deepen research efforts". AstraZeneca employees read that as "merge R&D teams". No thanks.

It says it will strengthen areas like oncology. Translation: "give Pfizer shareholders a chunk of the benefits of AstraZeneca's cancer breakthroughs."

Note to the Coalition leaders: it wasn't just Sir Richard who called the Glaxo deal wrong in 2000. MPs on the Science Select Committee gave it a ringing endorsement, too. Many scientists didn't. They said from the start that merging Glaxo and SmithKline was a pointlessly risky exercise.

Now, they seem to think this deal is crazy too. Perhaps we should take notice.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Digital Optimisation Executive - Marketing

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's fastest growing, multi...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Reporting Manager

£70000 - £90000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Financial Reporting Manager i...

Recruitment Genius: Payments Operations Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They win lots of awards for the...

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Debt Negotiator

£13500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This nationwide enforcement com...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)