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.

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
Life and Style
fashionEveryone, apparently
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
music
Sport
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Arts and Entertainment
film
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

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Graduate Recruitment Consultant - 2013/14 Grads - No Exp Needed

£18000 - £20000 per annum + OTE £30000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Law Costs

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - Law Costs Draftsperson - NICHE...

SQL Developer (Stored Procedures) - Hertfordshire/Middlesex

£300 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer (Stored Procedures) Watford...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style