British PM wants more Pfizer promises, but pharma's merger vows are fleeting

British Prime Minister David Cameron

It took a few days and a lot of outcry, but British Prime Minister David Cameron finally got the message from U.K. unions, scientists and regional officials. As Reuters reports, Cameron is now demanding stronger guarantees that Pfizer's buyout of AstraZeneca ($AZN) won't decimate the country's science community and leave a host of employees jobless.

Already, Pfizer ($PFE) CEO Ian Read has said that 20% of the combined company's R&D workforce will stay in the U.K. He promised to keep AstraZeneca's commitment to create a research hub in Cambridge. And Read said Pfizer would keep a factory in Macclesfield, where workers are up in arms about the potential buyout.

But those commitments expire in 5 years. At that point, Pfizer would be free to do anything its business seemed to require. Consider Merck KGaA, which touched off protests when it offered to buy the Swiss biotech Serono. The German company promised to keep its research headquarters and its thousands of employees in Geneva. Several years later, the HQ is sold and the Geneva workforce shrunk to a shadow of its former self.

Still, Cameron appeared to be on board with Read's offers, enthusiastically so. Now?

"The commitments that have been made so far are encouraging," he said in Parliament Wednesday (as quoted by Reuters). "But let me be absolutely clear, I'm not satisfied. I want more."

The PM is walking a fine line, however. He's apparently afraid of scaring Pfizer away. We'd put a low probability on that, given the government's actual power--or lack of power--to interfere with the deal. Still, Cameron went on to say, "[T]he way to get more is to engage. We want the investment, the jobs and the research that comes with that competitive tax system."

Next week, Read and AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot will appear in Parliament to talk about the deal proposal. Presumably we'll find out more about Read's assurances then. 

- read the Reuters news

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