Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

May Says U.K. Must Defend Its Drugmakers From Overseas Takeovers

  • AstraZeneca is ‘one of the jewels’ in U.K. drug industry
  • New industrial strategy should allow defense against takeovers

Theresa May, who is on course to succeed David Cameron as U.K. prime minister, signalled that she would help shield the nation’s pharmaceutical industry from takeovers like Pfizer Inc.’s attempt on AstraZeneca Plc two years ago.

A new industrial strategy is needed to enable the government to “defend a sector that is as important as pharmaceuticals is to Britain,” May said Monday at a press conference in London. That doesn’t mean automatically stopping the sale of British companies to foreign ones, she said.

The government nearly allowed AstraZeneca, “one of the jewels” in the crown of the British pharmaceutical industry, to be taken over by Pfizer, a company with a “track record of asset stripping and whose self-confessed attraction to the deal was to avoid tax,” May said.

AstraZeneca Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot fought off Pfizer’s unsolicited takeover attempt in 2014, promising investors their shares will eventually be worth more than the 55 pounds apiece that Pfizer offered, without the risks of the disruption caused by a merger or regulators blocking the deal. Shares of Astra dropped 0.9 percent to 45.35 pounds at 1:44 p.m. London time.

The company also told investors it could achieve sales of $45 billion by 2023, based on its own pipeline of new drugs. Analysts currently predict AstraZeneca will generate $32.3 billion then, according to the average of six estimates.

Investors aren’t the only people with a stake when companies are sold, said May, the home secretary.

“Workers have a stake, local communities have a stake, and often the whole country has a stake,” she said.

AstraZeneca spokesman Neil Burrows declined to comment.

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