'Optimistic' Pfizer chief won't rule out Astra break-up

Pfizer chief executive Ian Read is “optimistic” about gaining control of AstraZeneca, but won’t rule out breaking up the British drugmaker if his bid is successful.

“I never use the word hostile,” Read told the London Evening Standard amid expectations that a knock-out offer could be pitched direct to the British firm’s investors.

“We are talking to shareholders, we would like to talk to AstraZeneca… and we are still hopeful of an accommodation,” but meanwhile “we are considering all of our options, of course”.

Read, who today appeared before the Science and Technology Committee before touring City shareholders, said it was important for Viagra-maker Pfizer to win over politicians and the public because: “We want to be welcome in any country we are in. We don’t want to be fighting against society.”

He rejected claims that David Cameron had been cheerleading for his bid: “I believe the government is not supportive of either company, they are supportive of doing science in the UK.”

Read believes AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot “had a tough hand dealt” but had created “an interesting pipeline” of drugs.

He said, however: “You don’t transform your pipeline in 15 months. To build a pipeline you need five to six years. I think obviously there are interesting assets in AstraZeneca. I think they are far more interesting if they are combined with our portfolio.”

Read said his own shareholders “understand our position” but of course “they will not reward us if we overpay” for his prey.

US giant Pfizer has until May 26 to bid. Analysts believe the merged company could be carved up along product lines, as Kraft was following its controversial Cadbury takeover.

“I have not said I have got any intention of splitting this company up,” Read said, adding: “If at some point shareholders say to us, we don’t think you are running all of these businesses optimally and we think you could increase value by one of them being sold, well that is a possible option.”

Read told the select committee that Pfizer’s and AstraZeneca’s “science will continue” and  that the enlarged group would  be a world powerhouse in  cancer drugs.

For the second day running, Soriot faced MPs after Read  had been grilled by them. He warned that the group’s research work could “quickly lose momentum” because of the distraction of a merger.

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