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19th February 2020
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Mega deals return

Posted 07/05/2014 by sevans

Confirmation of Pfizer’s £63bn hostile bid for the UK drug firm AstraZeneca came just too late for inclusion in the May issue of C&I – which does have a story about the other UK pharma major GSK’s asset swap with Novartis, and US-based Eli Lilly’s acquisition of another Novartis business, in this case animal health. The mega deals have returned to Big Pharma and it is certainly a busy time for the consultants, bankers, managements and all the other ‘hangers-on’ that are usually involved!

The headlines about the possible Pfizer/AstraZeneca deal are full of comments from politicians of all persuasions, consultants, trade unionists and shareholders, but as with any of these major deals, the last people to have a voice are the employees – after all what do they matter when big financial deals are involved?

As we all know they are the people who actually do the work, that make the discoveries and turn ideas into reality, thereby giving corporations products to sell and build their profits to provide the cash to make these deals. 

The only place in the media that I have seen anything about AstraZeneca’s employees has been in the Cambridge Post, the local newspaper covering the area where AstraZeneca’s new R&D centre is planned. And that report is all about the concerns of Astra’s employees who are wondering whether they should purchase new homes in the area given the ongoing uncertainty.

Astra’s management has been particularly bullish about the company’s future as an independent entity, a great improvement over its situation just a year ago, but will this be enough to convince shareholders not to sell, after all they are only interested in their return on their investment.

Meanwhile, many observers are saying that Pfizer’s latest quarterly figures show exactly why it are so keen to add new products to their portfolio – like many Big Pharma companies, its cupboard is somewhat bare, and like other companies in its situation acquisition could be a quick fix. And, again like other companies in their situation, they have split the company into three separate businesses – the usual consultant’s approach for a centralised company!

The problem is that such ‘quick fixes’ often do not deliver on expectations, but the cost is a loss of skilled researchers, who in many recent cases, however, have been snapped up by contract manufacturers and research companies. The irony is that many of those discarded experts then end up advising their previous Big Pharma employers who suddenly discover that they don’t now have the up-to-date expertise required in today’s competitive and combative environment.

Other researchers start up their own companies and then beat their former slow-footed employers to new products and processes – the irony here of course is these start-ups then find themselves short of resources, usually cash, and are forced to form collaborations with Big Pharma and often end up being swallowed up again by their former employers or their competitors.

And then we have the politicians who see these mega deals as opportunities to attack the policies of their rivals or pose as saviours of jobs and the UK’s knowledge base.

What is certain is that the headlines will continue, and people’s lives will be put on hold until someone cracks, probably a major shareholder who sees the gleam of the money more than the future of the company. It is certainly a funny old world – unless you happen to be one of the affected employees!

Neil Eisberg - Editor

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