Pascal Soriot

AstraZeneca slash 600 Cheshire jobs

Pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca has announced the relocation of its research and development (R&D) centre in Cheshire, along with 600 job losses.

The international company, which makes market prescription medicines for six major healthcare sectors, employs approximately 57,200 people worldwide and is active in over 100 countries.

AstraZenca said on Monday it plans to establish a new £330m R&D centre and corporate headquarters in Cambridge by the end of 2016.

Its Cheshire base, however, will close and 600 people will lose their jobs, although the majority of its 2,900 employees will be relocated to Cambridge.

Two further new international bases will be created in Gaithersburg, Maryland, U.S. and Mölndal near Gothenburg in Sweden.

The company said Cambridge offers easy access to scientific talent, as well as collaboration opportunities with certain renowned academic research institutions, pre-eminent hospitals and biotech businesses.

Pascal Soriot, chief executive of AstraZeneca, said: “Our proposed investment is a clear signal of AstraZeneca’s long-term commitment to the UK and highlights the important role Cambridge plays internationally in bioscience research.

“The Government’s Life Sciences Strategy and the meaningful policies they have put in place in recent years to encourage investment help make Britain an attractive location for biopharmaceutical research and development.

“Cambridge, which boasts strong links with London-based research institutions, is a world-renowned bioscience hotspot that rivals the likes of San Francisco and Boston.

“In a world where partnerships and collaborations drive medical progress, becoming an integral part of the Cambridge ecosystem offers compelling advantages for AstraZeneca, giving us easier access to leading-edge academic and industry networks, scientific talent and valuable partnering opportunities.

“I believe that the investment we are announcing today greatly increases the chances that the next generation of innovative medicines will be invented and manufactured in Britain.”

The firm’s Cheshire base at Alderley Park will no longer carry out R&D work, although 700 of its workforce are expected to remain at the site, while 1,600 will be relocated south.

Mr Soriot added: “We are fully committed to treating all our employees with respect and fairness as we navigate this period of change.

“AstraZeneca remains strongly committed to the North West of England. We are keen to work with central and local government, as well as the business community in the region, to ensure that all practical solutions for the future of Alderley Park are considered in order to support the local economy over the long term.”

James Hadfield, a biotech specialist at the Manchester offices of Grant Thornton, commented: “The relocation of these key R&D jobs is a set back and the suggestion that it took the personal intervention of George Osborne to prevent the AZ facility at Alderley Park closing entirely will send a shudder through the North West life science community.

“Globally, all the big pharma companies face big challenges when it comes to creating new blockbuster drugs at a time when shareholders want costs slashed, and while the clock ticks down on existing patents.

“Some analysts feel that AZ is more exposed than most, so they will need to invest heavily in developing new product over the coming years - as such the R&D function is more important than ever.

“That said, over the last few years big pharma has been de-risking by outsourcing increasing amounts of their R&D, so the fact that jobs are to be moved rather than cut is perhaps a silver lining for some of the employees impacted.

“The North West has made great progress in recent years in establishing itself as a respected centre for life sciences, but unfortunately the attractiveness of a world class bio-cluster like Cambridge will have been a big draw for AZ.”

“The continued presence of AZ’s Macclesfield manufacturing facility and the retention of 700 jobs at Alderley Park will mean they remain a major employer and driver of the local economy.

“In addition it is hoped the planned Bio Science Park at Alderley will also contribute to continued development of the NW life sciences sector, assuming this continues as planned.

“So there are still many reasons for the North West life sciences sector to be positive and some great things are happening, but this is without doubt a major blow.”

Dr Neil Murray, chief executive of the Liverpool-based drug development company Redx Pharma, added: “The Astra Zeneca R&D centre at Alderley Park is a world class facility and the prospect of the greater part of it moving to Cambridge is certainly a set-back for the North West economy, not least because these are high value jobs.

“The industry is clearly changing and there is increasingly an emphasis on small, agile companies like our own to contribute to the industry’s research challenge. In growing our business we’ve been fortunate to recruit staff from a variety of large pharma companies and we anticipate building on that core. “

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