When Pfizer ($PFE) mounted its 12-figure pursuit of the U.K.'s AstraZeneca ($AZN) earlier this year, local politicians went on the attack, painting the U.S. company as a bottom-line-minded raider with ill designs the nation's scientific pedigree. Now, as the American AbbVie ($ABBV) makes a similar, if smaller-scale, attempt on the Irish-headquartered Shire ($SHPG), ministers, members of parliament and business leaders have been loath to take up arms.
As The Telegraph reports, that's in part because U.K. lawmakers don't consider Shire as integrally British as AstraZeneca. It's the nation's third largest drugmaker, but years of globalization have spread its reach well beyond the U.K. Furthermore, the English-founded company's decision to domicile itself in Ireland for tax purposes did little to endear it to U.K. leaders, one of the Telegraph's sources said, and "therefore it cannot expect any patriotic protectionism."
But the biggest differentiator to constituents--and, thus, politicians--is likely employment. Pfizer's eyes on AstraZeneca put about 6,700 U.K. jobs in jeopardy, a fact that helped galvanize MPs to grill CEO Ian Read like a foreign invader. Shire, by contrast, employs just 500 people in the country, 9% of its global workforce, and that number is only further shrinking as the company cuts jobs at its Basingstoke R&D facility, the newspaper points out. Despite its Irish address and U.K. listing, the closest thing Shire has to a home base is Boston, The Telegraph notes, where CEO Flemming Ornskov spends much of his time.
|AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez|
Meanwhile, Shire's perceived lack of a U.K. identity means little to AbbVie, which is much more concerned with the tax benefits conferred by the company's geography. AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez is telling investors that a combined entity could bring its tax rate down to about 13% under the Irish flag. Shire shook off the company's most recent offer, valued at about $46 billion, but AbbVie is thought to be getting things in order for a fourth approach, and the company has not ruled out making a hostile bid, something that seems all the more likely in light of Gonzalez's candor with shareholders.
For its part, Shire has taken a page from AstraZeneca, which has for now writhed free of would-be acquirer Pfizer, laying out an ambitious plan to double its revenue to $10 billion a year by 2020. About $7 billion of that will coming from on-the-market products like the ADHD treatment Vyvanse and rare disease therapy Firazyr and the the remaining $3 billion flowing out of Shire's pipeline. And that figure doesn't include any potential M&A, something Ornskov has hardly been shy around in his roughly 18 months on the job.
And while Shire may not be able to count on the nativist fervor that helped AstraZeneca remain independent, it can point to a sterling résumé of growth its counterpart would envy. As Ornskov has repeatedly pointed out, Shire's market cap was $19 billion when he took the reins in 2013 and sits at $44 billion now. With that track record, many analysts believe Ornskov's entreaties to stay the course may speak louder to shareholders than Gonzalez's promise of synergy and low taxes.
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