AstraZeneca chairman takes to airwaves to explain rejection of Pfizer's "final offer"

The swift rejection of Pfizer's "final" £69bn offer by the board of AstraZeneca was quickly followed by the latter's chairman Leif Johansson telling BBC Radio 4 that its shareholders will have the final say.

Rejected offer: AstraZeneca chairman Leif Johansson
Rejected offer: AstraZeneca chairman Leif Johansson

Despite the US drug company making a higher offer yesterday, it was rejected this morning by the AstraZeneca board with a combative statement to the stock market and the media, which has been posted in part below, describing Pfizer as "driven by corporate financial benefits of cost savings and tax minimisation".

However, when Johansson was later interviewed on the Radio 4 Today programme he was at pains to stress he did not know when the episode would be over and that the ultimate decision was for AstraZeneca’s shareholders.

In one exchange, he was asked: "You can see why the supply of drugs, many of them moving into a publicly funded health sector, is a very sensitive question. Apart from your duty to shareholders don’t you think you would need to give assurances to the public as well and that is part of your duty, not the financial kind you have to shareholders, but a broader duty?"

He replied: "It is part of our duty and we have done all of that. We identified from the beginning that this was a controversial deal, it has proven to be just that for all the reasons you have said. But in the end UK law is quite clear, it is for the shareholders to decide. Pfizer now says this is the final offer and I have to believe it in what it says."

Cohn and Wolfe managing director of corporate affairs Andrew Escott said AstraZeneca had used many of the available "public bargaining chips", from tapping into national pride to aligning with the corporate tax debate.

He added: "The Today programme was predictably helpful this morning, setting out the case against Pfizer in most of their questions. What matters now is how the dealmakers talk to the shareholders."

Excerpt from AstraZeneca’s statement to the market:

"Pfizer’s approach throughout its pursuit of AstraZeneca appears to have been fundamentally driven by the corporate financial benefits to its shareholders of cost savings and tax minimisation. From our first meeting in January to our latest discussion yesterday, and in the numerous phone calls in between, Pfizer has failed to make a compelling strategic, business or value case. The board is firm in its conviction as to the appropriate terms to recommend to shareholders.

"AstraZeneca has created a culture of innovation, with science at the heart of its operations, which will continue to create significant value for patients, shareholders and all stakeholders of AstraZeneca.

"As an independent company, the entire value of AstraZeneca’s pipeline will accrue to our shareholders. Under Pfizer’s Final Proposal, this value would be significantly diluted.

"We have rejected Pfizer’s Final Proposal because it is inadequate and would present significant risks for shareholders, while also having serious consequences for the company, our employees and the life-sciences sector in the UK, Sweden and the US."

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