Concerns in the UK about a possible takeover of AstraZeneca by Pfizer are growing with politicians and scientists airing their fears about the effect a deal would have on the country's research base.
A joint statement from the Royal Society of Chemistry, the British Pharmacological Society, the Society of Biology and the Biochemical Society, has been issued stating that "whatever the outcome of Pfizer's declared interest in taking over AstraZeneca, it is another sign of the global trend for pharmaceuticals". The societies, which represent over 100,000 members, claim that UK has been a "world leader in medicines R&D, but recent closures and restructuring put this position under threat".
They note that as large pharma consolidates and downsizes, much of early-stage research is coming "from an innovation ecosystem of academia and SMEs". The societies argue that "the UK can stay at the cutting edge and reap the economic rewards if we act now, while the sector remains strong, to support the transition to the new drug discovery model".
They go on to state that when the car industry faced similar challenges, "a government-sponsored Automotive Council played a key role in re-invigorating the sector – and now a new vehicle rolls off a UK production line every 20 seconds". The societies conclude by saying the government must again lead the way, by establishing a 'Pharmaceutical Council' to bring together "charities, funding bodies, businesses, academics, the NHS and learned societies to ensure the UK is the best place in the world to do drug discovery".
A number of observers have expressed fears that Pfizer's move on AstraZeneca is driven by tax benefits rather than any R&D strategy. Adrian Bailey, Labour MP and chair of the Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee, has called for an investigation, saying that Pfizer's commitment to the UK needs to be questioned, having shut down its research facilities at Sandwich three years ago.
Chancellor George Osborne has been speaking to AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot and Pfizer boss Ian Read, who flew into the UK this week. He was quoted in The Guardian as saying that "I want to see more British science. AstraZeneca have been doing a lot of that great science. Pfizer said very encouraging things about the UK as a place to do business and a place to do good science".
The concerns remain, however, and Melanie Lee, a highly-regarded figure in the sector, formerly of UCB (among others) and a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, told the BBC that a takeover "would not present a positive move for the UK science base nor AstraZeneca's R&D. It is likely to involve reducing R&D investment across the combined group".
She dded that "the UK scientific community and government should ask very serious questions about this proposal and understand fully that this could be a further nail in the coffin of our UK-based pharmaceutical industry".