In an open letter, scientists including Professor Sir Alan Fersht, master of Caius College, Cambridge, and Rob Miller, professor of Aerothermal Technology at Cambridge, said it was ‘simply too dangerous’ to allow Pfizer to take over AstraZeneca.
“The traditional UK policy of not interfering in foreign takeovers shows a basic lack of understanding of how a technology sector should be nurtured. At the heart of most successful high-tech sectors is a network of relationships spanning education, university research, companies large and small and the supply chain.
“When the Medical Research Council set up the MRC Cambridge Centre for Protein Engineering in the early 1990s, ICI Pharmaceuticals (the precursor to AstraZeneca) funded 4 staff positions and all running costs with no strings. AstraZeneca are now moving to Cambridge to be next door to the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology and to interact with the Biomedical Campus.
“It is essential for the scientific future of the UK and its technological base that we have a pharmaceutical industry that is committed to work with UK universities and research scientists. “Without those interactions and without scientific jobs, science will wither, with dire effects for this country’s technological future. We are not concerned that a US company is taking over a British one.
“Indeed, there are several small British high tech companies that are thriving because they have been taken over by Americans who appreciate and nurture the research that is done here.
“AstraZeneca is not a basket case as was the British motoring industry of old but a thriving, profitable company that does not need any input from Pfizer. A better analogy would be with Rolls-Royce, which has been a remarkably successful company. But for the Government’s golden share that prevents its being sold, it might well have been taken over by a competitor and had its technology assets stripped.
“Takeovers by companies with a track record of intellectual asset stripping, company break up, short term ownership, or poor research and development investment, can destroy a strong network in months. The key to nurturing them is stability of strategy and funding over decades, not quarters.
“The value of the network resides in the depth and breadth of knowledge and relationships of which it is composed. These networks mentor young talent and transfer technology from blue skies research through to the final product. They incubate new manufacturing techniques through small companies.
“Most importantly they inspire innovation. These technology networks take decades to build.
“It is simply too dangerous to allow other successful companies to be put at risk. The decisions on whether to sell AstraZeneca should not solely be in the hands of its shareholders, many of whom have little interest in this country aside from making a quick profit. We scientists need AstraZeneca.
“So does the UK.”
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