AstraZeneca’s mammoth Alexion takeover probed for competition concerns

Coronavirus vaccine maker AstraZeneca’s 39 billion US dollars (£27.5 billion) megadeal to buy an American drug company is being probed by the UK competition watchdog.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it is looking into whether Cambridge-based AstraZeneca’s acquisition of Alexion Pharmaceuticals could harm competition in the UK.

The CMA has set a deadline of June 3 for views from interested parties and will decide by July 21 whether to launch a more in-depth investigation.

AstraZeneca agreed to buy Boston-based Alexion for 175 US dollars (£123) a share in December, marking the drug giant’s biggest ever acquisition and a move to boost its expertise in immunology and rare diseases.

The cash-and-shares deal was approved by shareholders earlier this month.

Pfizer takeover approach of AstraZeneca
AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot suffered a shareholder backlash over his pay (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

It is a milestone for AstraZeneca – which has developed the Covid-19 jab together with Oxford University – and will diversify the group, adding to its fast-growing cancer treatment business.

AstraZeneca is hoping to complete the takeover of Alexion in the third quarter of the year.

The deal has already been approved in 10 countries, including by the US Federal Trade Commission.

The CMA inquiry comes just weeks after AstraZeneca’s boss Pascal Soriot suffered a shareholder backlash over his pay.

Nearly 40% of investors voted against plans to boost the maximum payout for the chief executive from 550% to 650% of his £1.3 million salary.

The group pledged to talk to investors in a bid to understand their concerns after its executive pay plans narrowly passed at the annual general meeting.

The pharmaceutical firm is, meanwhile, facing political pressure over its coronavirus vaccine, with a legal battle launched by the European Union over a supply row, while there have also been blood clot concerns over the jab.

Protesters also staged a demonstration at its Cambridge headquarters earlier this month, calling on the group to share its Covid-19 vaccine technology.