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Astrazeneca presents the case for the defense, while Sweden voices concerns on Pfizer bid

By Cormac Sheridan, Staff Writer

Pascal Soirot, CEO of Astrazeneca plc, and his senior management team came out fighting against Pfizer Inc.’s takeover bid Tuesday, setting out an ambitious long-term growth plan for the company based on current growth drivers and a rapidly maturing pipeline, which, they claim, will lead to $45 billion in revenue by 2023.

The top-line growth is expected to kick in after 2017. The company predicts that 2017 revenues will be in line with those of 2013, which dropped 6 percent to $25.7 billion. It hopes that further revenue falls, due to the loss of exclusivity on Crestor, Seroquel and Nexium, will be offset in the near term by growth from its diabetes business, from sales of Brilinta (ticagrelor), from its respiratory franchise, from emerging markets and from Japan.

But by 2020, it expects add another 10 new products to its portfolio. Handily, one of those gained approval Tuesday. Although Epanova (omega-3-carboxylic acids), which the FDA approved as an adjunct to diet to reduce triglyceride levels in adults with severe hypertriglyceridemia, is unlikely to set investors on fire, its approval is a welcome return to form for Astrazeneca’s clinical development organization, which has endured several setbacks of late.

International commentary on the potential takeover has focused more or less exclusively on the UK, and Pfizer CEO Ian Read has offered UK Prime Minister David Cameron several assurances about the enlarged company’s continued commitment to the UK. (See BioWorld Today, May 5, 2014.)

No such overtures have been made to the Swedish authorities, however, and in its public communication so far Pfizer has been markedly silent about its intentions toward Astrazeneca’s operations in Sweden, where, despite recent downsizing, it still employs 5,900 people, at its R&D site in Mölndal, near Gothenburg, and at Södertälje, south of Stockholm. 

“The R&D site was chosen last year as one of three global R&D sites,” Jacob Lund, spokesman for Astrazeneca in Sweden. “We have currently 2,200 employees. Of those, 1,190 are in R&D positions.” Mölndal is Astrazeneca’s lead R&D site for small-molecule research in two of its three core therapy areas, namely cardiovascular and metabolic disease, and respiratory disease, inflammation and autoimmunity. “In Södertälje, we have another 3,700 employees,” Lund said.  

That site is now focused on manufacturing, following Astrazeneca’s decision to shut down neuroscience R&D there, a move that caused considerable shock in Sweden. Government officials are now concerned that a Pfizer takeover of Astrazeneca could lead to further job losses.

“From a Swedish perspective, we are very keen that the jobs remain here and not move to the UK or elsewhere. We want them to remain here, and we want them to grow,” Oscar Sundevall, press secretary to Sweden’s enterprise minister Annie Lööf, told BioWorld Today.

The country has far less leverage than the UK, however, given Astrazeneca’s domicile in London, and Pfizer’s plans to move its headquarters to the UK in the event of a successful takeover. In response to questions on its intentions toward Sweden, Pfizer declined to offer any specifics.

“It is premature to speculate at this stage on the exact research mix and location of specific R&D operations. However, we recognize that, like Pfizer, Astrazeneca also has world class science and scientists,” the company stated. “It’s worth noting again that at this time we are bound by the UK Takeover Code regarding statements we can make about our interaction with Astrazeneca.

“There is no consummated transaction at this point,” the statement continued. “If and when there is a consummated transaction, we will then be able to speak to specific aspects and details as appropriate.”