MPs to grill Pfizer chiefs over bid for AstraZeneca

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The Independent Online

Senior executives at Pfizer and the Takeover Panel will be summoned to face MPs as fears grow over the US drug maker's $100bn (£59bn) tilt for AstraZeneca.

Members of the Business Select Committee are worried that Pfizer's attempt to create the world's pre-eminent pharmaceuticals company will see another British "crown jewel" fall into foreign hands. A deal would be the biggest foreign takeover of a British company.

The committee's chairman, Adrian Bailey, said that launching an inquiry into the bid would be on the committee's agenda at its next meeting next week.

"This really highlights the need of the Takeover Panel to highlight public interest [with foreign takeovers]," he said. "AstraZeneca operates in an area where the UK has a global standing."

Another committee member, Brian Binley, told The Independent: "My concerns go back to Cadbury [and its takeover by US cheese maker Kraft]. There are certain jewels in the crown of British commerce and we will be talking about this."

The MPs' intervention came as Pfizer's chief executive, Ian Read, flew into the UK yesterday for a push to win over Astra's investors and the Government.

AstraZeneca's investors have signalled that Pfizer will have to pay $105bn-$110bn and increase the proportion of cash in its offer to win them over. The company has already said that $100bn falls "significantly" short of its expectations and has not entered into formal discussions with Pfizer.

Under UK takeover rules, the US company has until 26 May to table a formal bid to investors or walk away.

Pfizer, who shut its Kent plant in 2011 with 2,400 jobs losses, has already contacted the Government about its plans in an attempt to forestall a political backlash. Last night Mr Read, who studied in London in the 1970s, was reported to have issued a stark warning against any Government block on its bid.

"The UK faces a choice," he told the Financial Times. "Do they focus on ensuring there is an educated workforce with the right incentives to attract investment or do they pick winners and losers?"

The pharmaceuticals sector has been a hive of activity in recent weeks, with GlaxoSmithKline selling its cancer drugs business to Novartis last week and the Swiss company's vaccines unit going in the opposite direction.But one deal that looks less likely to happen is a tie-up between the US botox maker Allergan and FTSE 100 company Shire. Shire shares initally jumped yesterday amid speculation Allergan could bid for the UK group, but they ended down 1 per cent on reports the US group is now looking to sell itself to a potential white knight such as France's Sanofi, Johnson & Johnson of the US or Germany's Bayer as it fights off a $47bn takeover bid from Valeant and the activist investor Bill Ackman.