‘No prospect last-minute Pfizer deal’

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AstraZenecaLeif Johansson Reuters. AstraZeneca chairman Leif Johansson.

London - The chairman of Britain's AstraZeneca said on Monday he saw no prospect of a deal with US drugmaker Pfizer before a deadline of May 26 set under UK takeover rules, or any likelihood of that deadline being extended.

Leif Johansson also told Reuters that it was Pfizer, not AstraZeneca, that called an end to discussions on Sunday afternoon about a potential takeover to create the world's largest pharmaceuticals company.

Johansson said he and AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot had spoken with Pfizer chief executive Ian Read for more than an hour on Sunday afternoon.

“We spent the whole of the weekend engaging, culminating in a telephone discussions with Ian Read and the (Pfizer) chief financial officer on Sunday afternoon, together with me and our chief financial officer and chief executive,” Johansson said.

“It was not us that closed negotiations on Sunday.”

At the time of the call, the two sides were still discussing an offer submitted on Friday night worth 53.50 pounds a share and Johansson said he was given no notice that another offer was coming at 55 pounds, valuing the business at some $118 billion.

“Frankly, they surprised us a little by putting out another number,” he said.

AstraZeneca's board did not take long to turn down that offer because it had previously made clear it would not consider a bid below 58.85 pounds a share, Johansson said. He declined to say if the board's rejection decision was unanimous, adding: “I can assure you I have not misunderstood the board's intention here.”

Asked if he now envisaged any possibility of a deal getting done within the next week or an agreement being reached to extend the deadline, which is something AstraZeneca could request, he said:

“No, I don't. I think the language is very clear in Pfizer's letter that this is their absolute last and final (offer). I think the (UK) Takeover Panel might hold them to that.”

AstraZeneca ran into flak from shareholders on Monday, many of whom are angered at its decision not to negotiate with Pfizer and the resulting slump in the company's share price.

But Johansson, who is talking to many investors in the wake of the rejection, insisted that AstraZeneca had actually engaged with Pfizer over a considerable period of time, including a visit by top executives to New York in January when the matter was still confidential. - Reuters



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