Anglo-Swedish dug firm AstraZeneca has revealed a dramatic increase in its planned job cuts

Anglo-Swedish dug firm AstraZeneca has revealed a dramatic increase in its planned job cuts. A total of 7600 jobs - 11 per cent of its workforce - will go. As more of its key drugs come off patent, the company is striving to make savings, particularly following a $15.2 billion (?7.6 billion) acquisition of US biologics firm MedImmune (see Chemistry World, June 2007, p18). 

AstraZeneca had announced 3000 job cuts earlier this year (see Chemistry World, March 2007, p16), saying that most of those were to be in sales, administration and manufacturing. But 700 positions in R&D are now included in redundancy plans. Positions in Britain, Sweden, Germany, France, the US and Canada will be affected. 

The company’s medical director John Patterson was keen to assert that R&D cuts would not affect a commitment to build the drug pipeline - and that affected positions would be within ’non-core activities’ such as data processing, which could be outsourced. ’The company is committed to increasing R&D and is investing increasing amounts of money to deliver our R&D. Our job is to make sure that money goes maximally into the projects and actually deliver the portfolio,’ he said.  

Referring to other job cuts announced in the past year by pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer and Merck, Steve Brown, from AstraZeneca, told Chemistry World, ’we’re operating in a very tough market at the moment, tougher than it has ever been before, with decreasing opportunity for blockbuster development and the increasing threat of generics.’ 

Matt Worrall from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry was more optimistic, pointing out that there are more molecules in every stage of the pipeline than ever before. ’Attrition is a big problem, but the pipeline is still strong,’ he said. ’The understanding of disease is changing all the time, which poses new challenges to the industry, and treatments are becoming more specialised.’ But increasing attrition rates meant fewer successful drugs had appeared in recent years: ’The low hanging fruit has already been picked,’ he said. 

Victoria Gill