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
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Evening Administrator

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established early...

Guru Careers: Executive Assistant / PA

£30 - 35k + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Executive Assist...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Reach Volunteering: External Finance Trustee Needed!

Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable