Vectura investors ignore critics and back tobacco giant takeover

Tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI) has won the shareholder vote it needed for its controversial £1.1 billion takeover of respiratory drugmaker Vectura, despite mobilised opposition to the deal.

PMI said it had won support from enough shareholders that – when added to its own holding in Vectura – meant it had a 75% position in the firm, well ahead of the 50% needed to get the transaction accepted.

All Vectura’s directors also backed the 165 pence-per-share deal, which has now become unconditional – meaning it can’t be blocked by shareholders who don’t support it.

The decision by shareholders has been greeted with consternation by health charities, public health specialists and doctors organisations, which have mounted a campaign against placing a pharma company in the hands of a big tobacco group.

The European Respiratory Society (ERS) said in a statement that the takeover “is not suitable, ethical, or in the best public interest. A tobacco company cannot be allowed to profit from the medicines used to treat the illnesses that its products cause”.

Meanwhile, Asthma UK, the British Lung Foundation and other healthcare organisations have written to public health minister Jo Churchill to protest against the takeover and ask for government intervention – via the Competition and Markets Authority – to counter a “monopoly of harm”.

The letter expresses the fear that PMI could use its ownership of Vectura to legitimise tobacco industry participation in health debates, and gain a bigger platform for from which to deploy tactics in the support of tobacco industry interests.

Vectura shareholders had also been warned that the company’s scientists may be unable to participate in medical meetings or publish research in journals as many of these outlets have policies of non-engagement with the tobacco industry, established links with universities could also be under threat, and it may struggle to attract talent.

PMI has argued that it wants to go “beyond nicotine” and reinvent itself as an inhaled delivery company focusing on health and wellness products, claiming it has spent $8 billion building an R&D capability spanning preclinical/toxicology, clinical testing, behavioural science and post-marketing studies.

Last month, it agreed another deal to acquire OtiTopic, a US respiratory drug company developing Aspirihale, an inhalable acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) treatment for acute myocardial infarction.

PMI’s chief executive Jacek Olczak said the company is “looking forward to working with Vectura’s scientists and providing them with the resources and expertise to grow their business to help us achieve our goal of generating at least $1 billion in net revenues from Beyond Nicotine products by 2025”.

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