It's a 'red herring', says Pfizer chief Ian Read after claims of drugs delays

Business Editor

Pfizer boss Ian Read hit back at claims from his opposite number at AstraZeneca last night, labelling as a "red herring" the threat of delays to breakthrough treatments if the drugs giant swallows the British firm in a record £63bn deal.

"In this integration, I frankly see no risk of delays for any important products for Pfizer or AstraZeneca. I'm afraid I think that's a real red herring," Mr Read told The Independent.

Hours earlier, giving evidence before the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot cited hold-ups in drug-development projects as a key reason for resisting Pfizer's approaches.

Mr Read, who will today argue his case before the Science and Technology Committee before touring City shareholders, added: "We would do the integration in a way that the scientists of both AstraZeneca and Pfizer would say 'these are projects that need to be kept on time, need to be ringfenced, need resources', and I have no doubt we would not slow up any of this development."

The Scot admitted he had been stung by criticism of his company, which invented the Viagra pill in Britain, for having a ruthless reputation for slashing jobs and research spending.

"I'm not sure what awful reputation you are talking about. I have 80,000 employees who will tell you we have a great reputation. I am personally extremely proud of Pfizer. If you go into most parts of the world, Pfizer has a great reputation, so frankly, I am a little bemused by this awful reputation", he said.

There have been calls from the President of the Royal Society, professor Sir Paul Nurse, for Pfizer to extend beyond five years its pledge to keep at least 20 per cent of the combined companies' research and development workforce in Britain. But Mr Read is resistant to making bigger promises, arguing that drugs companies need to be measured on shorter-term performance.

"I would say part of the problem for pharmaceuticals, and the reason the pharmaceuticals industry has had a lack of productivity, is too long a period without being measured. I am saying I need to measure what is happening in five years. I need to see if there are signs of productivity, I need to see an ownership culture.

"If you are running your business and you told a salesman 'I am going to give you 10 years to perform', he is going to start working in the ninth year. So what you need to do to manage a business is you need to say, 'look, I am going to assess your performance on five-year intervals, your right to capital depends on how well I see you doing in a five-year period'.

"I fully expect us to be in the UK for a lot longer than that but from the point of view of how I manage the business – and all our research areas wherever we are – we review them on a five-year cycle."

Earlier, Pfizer claimed its rival faced a $14bn plunge in revenues, as drugs fall out of patent, if it remained independent. AstraZeneca said this was an "opportunistic attempt to acquire a transformed AstraZeneca, without reflecting the value of its exciting pipeline".

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