Pfizer CEO defends Astra deal, says committed to UK science

U.S. drug company Pfizer fought back on Saturday against criticism that its planned takeover of drugmaker AstraZeneca would damage Britain's science base by saying UK research was a key reason for its move.

Chief Executive Ian Read, who is due to appear before two committees of UK lawmakers on May 13 and 14, said in a video that his proposed $106 billion deal would be a "win-win" for society and shareholders.

The planned acquisition would be the largest foreign takeover of a British company and the government has said it is looking for further binding commitments from Pfizer to ensure highly skilled jobs and research work is retained.

Read did not make any fresh pledges in his comments, which were posted on the U.S. company's website, but stressed that tapping into AstraZeneca's research and development capacity was an important reason behind the deal.

"When we looked at AZ, we liked their science. We liked where their science is being done, which is in the UK, and we know we have good science in the UK in the Cambridge, Oxford, London and other universities," he said.

He dismissed suggestions from AstraZeneca's Chief Executive Pascal Soriot that a merger would be disruptive and could damage the development of a series of experimental drugs currently in clinical testing.

"The integration of the two scientific bases, in my opinion, will be very easy," he said, arguing that Pfizer's system gave substantial autonomy to scientific leaders within specific diseases areas.

Pfizer has already given a five-year commitment to complete AstraZeneca's new research center in Cambridge, retain a factory in the northwestern English town of Macclesfield and put a fifth of its research staff in Britain if the deal goes ahead.

But the U.S. firm has also said it could adjust its promises if circumstances change "significantly", prompting demands for more water-tight pledges.

Britain's finance minister George Osborne said earlier on Saturday he was ready for "hard negotiation" to ensure Pfizer stuck to specific promises on jobs and science.

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Andrew Heavens)