Pfizer's interest in AstraZeneca worries Maryland

AstraZeneca, which owns MedImmune, employs 3,100 in state

(Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun )
May 18, 2014|By Jamie Smith Hopkins, The Baltimore Sun

Research labs closed by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer dot the country: Illinois. Michigan. New Jersey. New York. North Carolina.

Maryland officials don't want this state to join that list.

After Pfizer declared its desire to buy AstraZeneca — which employs 3,100 in the state — Gov. Martin O'Malley and six members of Maryland's congressional delegation fired off concerned letters, even though the purchase is by no means a done deal. So far, London-based AstraZeneca has rebuffed its New York suitor.

Yet O'Malley pressed Pfizer for assurances on jobs, noting that the company made some employment promises to the United Kingdom. Pfizer's response: It's too early to determine the state-by-state impact of a proposed purchase that hasn't reached the full negotiation stage.

But the company, which made its case before British leaders Tuesday, did do some wooing in Maryland. In a response to O'Malley, Pfizer CEO Ian Read said he recognizes the state's "significant investment to the biopharmaceutical industry."

"Pfizer values your investment and the important science that is being conducted there," he wrote. "MedImmune, a key biologics arm of AstraZeneca's R&D platform, demonstrates incredible value to patients."

Gaithersburg-based MedImmune — a biotech firm AstraZeneca bought in 2007 — is the state's largest life sciences company. Its products include the nasal-spray flu vaccine FluMist.

Anthony J. Coyle, chief scientific officer of Pfizer's Centers for Therapeutic Innovation in Boston, previously worked at MedImmune and waxed eloquent last week about its work.

"I have huge respect for the people, the talents and the vision of MedImmune," said Coyle, who worked there from 2004 to 2010. "Over the last decade, MedImmune has built a very, very, very exciting pipeline. I think it's of huge value to an organization like Pfizer."

That's because MedImmune's work isn't simply duplicating what Pfizer is doing elsewhere, he said. It's a "very complementary pipeline," he said.

MedImmune's therapies in the works include "immuno-oncology assets that Pfizer lacks," said Damien Conover, director of pharmaceutical research for Morningstar. "It's an area that could really revolutionize cancer treatment."

Pfizer's Coyle said he "absolutely, absolutely" sees a rationale for MedImmune's work to continue in Maryland, given the proximity to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda and Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers.

Judy Britz was delighted to hear that. She's executive director of the BioMaryland Center, a state-run organization that helps life sciences companies, and she was quick to supply two more assets for Pfizer's list: the Food and Drug Administration, based in Montgomery County, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services near Baltimore.

"The convenience and relationship that can take place by being in the backyard of the FDA is significant," she said. "And … at the end of the day, MedImmune's products, Pfizer's products — all their pricing and reimbursement will be influenced by CMS."

MedImmune is an anchor institution in an industry O'Malley has prioritized for growth. The state has pledged $1.3 billion in investments over a decade with efforts ranging from a biotech tax credit to an initiative meant to increase the amount of university research turning into products and startups.

In the past four years, according to state estimates, Maryland's life sciences industry has grown from about 400 companies employing 28,000 people to more than 500 companies employing 34,000. Average pay: $90,000-plus.

Some of that growth came after an earlier acquisition — a reminder that deals don't always lead to local cuts.

MedImmune employed 1,700 people in Maryland when AstraZeneca announced plans to buy it for $15.6 billion. Now MedImmune and AstraZeneca employment in the state is up to 3,100, spread between Gaithersburg and a manufacturing facility in Frederick.

But pharma marriages usually are followed by job losses. Pfizer shuttered research labs after major acquisitions in the past 14 years. It's had closures as part of general budget cuts, too.

'Project overlap'

John L. LaMattina, former president of Pfizer's global research and development, said the company had oncology research sites in three states until a 2006 reorganization slimmed the number to one, in California.

"Oncology research for AstraZeneca is at least partially handled at MedImmune," said LaMattina, now senior partner at PureTech, a venture creation firm in Boston. "Will Pfizer decide to keep that group intact … or will they want to consolidate on the West Coast? I don't know. They could decide to keep both groups. But there will be project overlap."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.