Open Sandwich so that biotech angels can save Pfizer's 2,400 jobs

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The Independent Online

George Freeman, the Tory MP and biotech expert, is calling on the Government to open Pfizer's site in Sandwich to venture capitalists and biotech angels in a bid to save as many of the 2,400 jobs, due to be axed when the plant closes, as it can.

Mr Freeman is in contact with top UK entrepreneurs, including Hermann Hauser, who founded Acorn computers, and serial biotech businessman Andy Richards, about how best to help the Pfizer scientists recycle their knowledge and skills into spin-outs or other similar ventures.

Mr Hauser and Mr Richards plan to visit Sandwich, in east Kent, this week and will be meeting Ruth McKernan, the Pfizer senior vice-president who runs the site, to discuss all the possibilities.

Mr Freeman said: "The Government has a great opportunity to turn this into a growth story. But it needs to take an imaginative and innovative approach, and needs a formal process. All the brilliant scientists and researchers at Sandwich have huge talents that can be transferred elsewhere.

"But what they need is access to angels and venture capitalists to see if there are businesses to be spun-out. We can't just tie a big ribbon around the site and say goodbye. This is not about saving a factory but unlocking intellectual ideas," he said.

Pfizer announced last week that Sandwich, the home of Viagra, allergy and respiratory research, will be wound down over the next 18 months. Dr McKernan made it clear the decision was not a reflection on the site, the workforce or the UK but was a decision based on Pfizer's need to slash R&D and save $5bn by next year.

Both Mr Hauser and Mr Richards are Cambridge-based and have been involved in launching and funding a string of tech and biotech companies in Silicon Fen and around the UK.

Mr Richards, the chairman of Altacor, Ixico and Novacta, said he hopes to meet Pfizer's scientists to discuss ideas for spin-outs and other projects. "I'm not saying we can save all 2,400 jobs but there could be up to 10 spin-outs or more. It's about empowering the scientists, encouraging them to start on their own, maybe recycling their redundancies. Closures like this always spawn a new generation of inventors."

Mr Richards worked with Mr Freeman and Schroders Ventures banker Kate Bingham on turning the closure of drugs group Ferring in Southampton into a new spin-out, Vantia. "We could do the same here."