Pfizer must back "with cash" its declared commitment to staying in the UK, for example by disposing of its Sandwich R&D site at considerably below market value, as the firm did when it sold its Ann Arbor facility in the US, say MPs.

Pfizer could also show its commitment by continuing to support business at Sandwich, say the members of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee in a letter to Universities and Science Minister David Willetts, in which they discuss theirinvestigation into the site's closure, which heard evidence from the Minister and senior Pfizer officers.

The company had explained to the inquiry that the structure of the pharmaceutical industry in the UK is changing, with firms moving from a Big Pharma to a contract research organisation (CRO) model. So it follows that Pfizer will seek to enter contracts with a number of CROs, say the MPs, who tell Mr Willetts:  "we hope that a number of CROs would be able to take over the Sandwich site and we consider that the government should press Pfizer to give preference to give business to new CROs on the Sandwich site." 

The Committee also says it would expect the government "to use the full range of levers at its disposal to ensure that Pfizer does not walk away" from the facility. "We consider that Pfizer needs to commit resources to, and enter into, contracts giving business to those at the Sandwich site into the medium term," say the MPs.

They commend Ministers for moving quickly to set up the Sandwich Economic Development Task Force - which published its first report on March 15 - but worry that there may not be sufficient time to consider options and develop arrangements to save jobs at the facility. They are concerned "about the speed with which Pfizer is withdrawing from the site," and suggest that it "would assist all concerned if Pfizer were to give a commitment to maintain the site and staff there beyond the statutory minimum period, to allow the Task Force and interested parties to develop proposals and find finance for alternative ownership and uses of the site."

They also consider it likely that further taxpayer support will be required to ensure the survival of high-tech R&D at Sandwich, and call on the government to indicate the support it is prepared to give those working at, and those who take over, the site. Reminding Mr Willetts of his acknowledgement that communications between Sandwich and the rest of the country will be vital, they point out that the infrastructure needs to be upgraded and that the resources to do so will have to come from the Treasury.

"As a Committee, we have been concerned about the concentration of high-tech businesses - not just life sciences - within the 'golden triangle' of London, Oxford and Cambridge," they say, adding: "developing viable and high-tech facilities at Sandwich with good communications to the rest of the country and the Continent provides an opportunity to show that development can take place outside the golden triangle."

Finally, the MPs call on the government to use the Sandwich closure as an opportunity to clarify how its policies will help sustain the pharmaceutical industry in the UK. One point which had been put to them during their inquiry was how the NHS could increase the "pull through" of scientific innovation to the benefit of life sciences development in the UK, they tell Mr Willetts, and ask him to set out "what plans the government has to clarify its policies on support for life sciences."