Acknowledging significant challenges to its drug portfolio, AstraZeneca says it will shed 7,300 jobs, over 10% of its workforce, including some 2,200 R&D positions. The layoffs are expected to generate $1.6 billion in savings by 2014.
The British-Swedish drug firm is cutting to the core to try to offset the impact of generics competition for several key products. The psychosis drug Seroquel IR, which had $4.3 billion in sales in 2011, is slated to lose patent protection in the U.S. in March. The blood pressure pill Atacand is expected to face generics competition in several markets, and the cholesterol medicine Crestor will lose patent protection in Canada.
AstraZeneca says its neuroscience research activities will see the most change. The company is shuttering its R&D site in Montreal and ending R&D activity in Södertälje, Sweden. Instead, a virtual neuroscience unit comprising 40 to 50 AstraZeneca scientists will work outside of the company’s labs, partnering with academic and industry scientists to conduct drug discovery and development.
AstraZeneca is the latest among the big pharma firms to step away from internal neuroscience research, which has produced few new drugs despite major investments. Novartis recently said it would close its neuroscience facility in Basel, Switzerland, and two years ago GlaxoSmithKline decided to forgo research in areas such as depression and pain.
The fresh round of cuts is on top of the 8,000 jobs, including some 3,500 in R&D, that AstraZeneca said in 2010 it would cut over four years. That move followed the elimination of 15,000 jobs between 2007 and 2009.