London - Pfizer chief executive Ian Read refused to be pinned down on his commitment to preserve British jobs as sceptical MPs grilled him yesterday about the US company’s unsolicited offer for AstraZeneca.

AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot followed Read’s appearance in front of the UK parliament’s business committee, telling it he could not rule out accepting the offer.

Read reiterated Pfizer’s pledge to keep 20 percent of its global research and development workforce in the UK and to maintain AstraZeneca’s factory in Macclesfield. The company would reduce employment after the acquisition, Read said, but when questioned he would not say if that meant Pfizer could cut science jobs in the UK. “The commitment of 20 percent of a global company’s research and development is an unprecedented commitment,” Read said.

Committee chairman Adrian Bailey opened the hearing by noting that Pfizer had been called a “shark that needs feeding” and asked: “What can you say to this committee to convince us that this is a leopard that has changed its spots?”

William Bain, another member, pressed Read on whether the company would live up to its commitment to keep 20 percent of the research and development workforce in the UK for at least five years. “Why on earth should we believe you?” Bain asked.

“I am a man of my word,” Read replied. “Pfizer is a company of its word.”

Meanwhile, Pfizer planned to sweeten its bid for AstraZeneca for a second time, people with knowledge of the matter said yesterday.

Pfizer and its advisers were crafting a new offer that would raise the value modestly above £50 (R873) a share while bumping up the cash portion, said two of the people. – Bloomberg