Bureaucratic Shakeup and More Layoffs at Merck?

Posted in BioBusiness

The Twitterverse was buzzing with activity late last week about a possible shakeup at Merck as Roger Perlmutter takes control as its new head of R&D.  As many of you may know, Perlmutter used to work at Merck but left to become Amgen’s Executive VP of R&D when Peter Kim, the now former Head of Merck’s R&D, was hired several years

Kim’s tenure at Merck was rife with missteps, misdirection and drug approval failures. So, when Amgen replaced its CEO and Merck fired Kim, Perlmutter saw an opportunity to return to the fold with Merck now under the tutelage of CEO Ken Frazier (the man who engineered the company’s Vioxx legal strategy).

Fierce Biotech substantiated the Twitter rumors that a major shakeup may be underway at Merck. According to an article published early on Friday, a Merck spokesperson confirmed that Perlmutter is indeed shaking things up and reorganizing Merck’s R&D infrastructure.

The spokesperson said

“I can confirm that some members of management, but not all Franchise leadership, are leaving the company but are working to ensure a smooth transition.”

The departure of several senior leaders was later confirmed by the Wall Street Journal.  While not confirmed, rumors suggested that Rupert Vessey will lead Merck’s Discovery and Early Development programs.

While Merck spends close to $8 billion annually on R&D, its late stage development pipeline is thin and Perlmutter was hired to strengthen it. Changes at the top usually mean that other changes will take place among the rank and file. That said, stay tuned for possible additional layoffs among Merck R&D personnel.

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!

Here We Go Again: AstraZeneca to Cut 1,600 Jobs

Posted in BioBusiness

Just when many pharmaceutical employees’ anxiety about  job security was beginning to wane and things appeared to returning to “normal”, yesterday AstraZeneca (AZ) announced that it was slashing another 1,600 jobs.  While this was not unexpected, these new cuts add to the massive number of pharmaceutical employees who have lost their jobs over the past five years.

According to a press release, the cuts will help AZ to save roughly $190 million per year through 2016.  Most of the lost jobs will come from restructuring of AZ’s R& D operations in the UK, Sweden and the US.  To that end, all R&D activity will stop at AZ’s Alderley Park facility in Northwest England, the former hub of the company’s R&D activities.  Az’s MedImmune subsidiary in Gaithersburg, MD will be the main center for biotech drug R&D while AZ’s research center in MoeIndal Sweden will focus on small molecule discovery and development.

AZ’s new CEO Pascal Soriot said the reorganization and restructuring were necessary to better focus the company’s R&D efforts in the key therapy areas that include cancer, cardiovascular and metabolic disorders and respiratory and inflammatory diseases. The company will reduce its efforts in the areas of neuroscience and antiinfectives.

Interestingly, many of the job cuts were made so that the company can build a new $500 million all purpose facility in Cambridge, England to leverage the R&D and clinical talent in that part of Britain.  The new facility is expected to be built by 2016.  Looking on the bright side, many of the employees who just lost their jobs, can find new ones three years from now!

AstraZeneca has already reduced its global workforce by around 10,000 as it has struggled to cope with generic competition and disappointing progress in finding new drugs. It now employs a total of 51,700 around the world.

Don’t be surprised if other big pharma companies announce new job cuts in 2013.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!

New Report: High Job Anxiety Amongst Pharmaceutical Employees

Posted in BioEducation

A post today on the fabulous Pharmalot Blog revealed that a recent poll conducted by Pharma IQ showed that about 44 percent of all pharmaceutical employee respondents worry that they may become redundant (corporate speak for dispensable) over the next year or so. Further, 50 percent believe that staffing levels will remain the same for 2012 whereas 32 percent expect more layoffs to occur. Only 19 percent of the 535 pharma employees surveyed believe that hiring will increase this year.

Roughly 48 percent of respondents indicated that their groups/departments had not been downsized. However, 61% of respondents—who indicated that downsizing had taken place in their department— reported that their job functions were being performed by fewer numbers of employees. Twenty-five percent report that the job functions performed by layed off employees were outsourced. Of those, 10 percent said that the jobs were outsourced to emerging markets like China, India, and Brazil etc.

Interestingly, a whopping 71 percent believe that the massive layoffs that have taken place in pharma are a result of the recession. While this is what big pharma wants its layed off employees to believe, the bottom line is that the pharma industry began shedding jobs in 2001 mainly because of anticipated lost of patent expiry for many of its blockbusters and the lack of new molecular entities discovered by internal R&D programs not because of cash flow problems. To wit, a quick perusal of cash reserves indicates that most major pharmaceutical companies have roughly $5 to 35 billion in short term cash reserves. Simply put, the recession conveniently provided pharma execs with a legitimate excuse to downsize.

To be fair, big pharma companies will be losing substantial revenue streams because of loss of patent protection for blockbusters like Lipitor, Zyprexa, and Plavix etc. And, that some belt tightening may be in order to remain competitive. However, most pharma execs realized way back in the mid 2000s that they could no longer justify such large workforces in the wake of thinning pipelines and a much lower than expect ROI from internal R&D activities. Consequently, they had to layoff large numbers of R&D and sales employees to keep their stock prices stable and in some cases to retain their jobs. The fact that a majority of the current pharma employees surveyed believe that the massive pharma layoffs that have taken place over the last decade are a result of the recession suggests that these employees are still drinking the Kool-Aid freely offered by their employers.

There are a lot of other interesting statistics and tidbits in the report that may be worth a look. However, it is important to note, that it is highly unlikely that pharma will ever replace many of the US and European employees who lost their jobs. Recent moves made by most major pharmaceutical companies clearly indicate that they are betting on their growth in both R&D and sales to take place in emerging markets. Sadly, the future of the US life sciences workforce is no longer bright. In fact, it is quite dim!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!


GlaxoSmithKline Will Reorganize Its R&D Operations To Cut Costs

Posted in BioEducation

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) today announced that it will reconfigure its R&D operations to cut operating costs. Interestingly, the company hopes to reorganize and not lay off any of its employees—yeah right!

According to a press release, a small number of employees will be affected at Research Triangle Park, NC GSK’s US base of operations, although a spokesperson refused to be more specific. Further, those affected workers are expected to remain in R&D but in different capacities.

For all of 2011, GSK generated $44.09 billion in sales and net income of $8.14 billion. However, fourth quarter revenues dropped 2 percent to $11.24 billion.

It seems like there is announcement like this every day from a big pharmaceutical company. It is no longer a secret that investing in R&D has not provided many big pharma companies with their expected return on investment. Consequently, there have been massive layoffs in R&D at every major pharmaceutical company over the past five years. This strategy is seemingly paradoxical; to wit, how can companies that have to regularly discover and commercialize new molecular entities remain in business if they continue to shed the employees who are responsible for making the discoveries? Sadly, big pharma’s strategy to remedy the paradox is to outsource R&D, establish R&D centers in emerging markets where wages and operational costs are much lower than in the US and other part of the developed world and to look at purchasing companies that have new drugs in late stage preclinical or clinical development.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


AstraZeneca Sheds 7,300 Jobs

Posted in BioEducation

After announcing its quarterly earnings and a 24 percent increase in 2011 profits, AstraZeneca (AZ) today made public its decision to eliminate another 7,300 jobs. Earlier this week there was speculation that job cuts were likely but the exact numbers were not disclosed. 

The reasons given for the layoffs despite increased annual profits? Government spending cuts for healthcare and stiff generic competition for several of its blockbuster drugs including Seroquel XR (depression), Atacand (hypertension) Crestor (cholesterol-lowering) and Symbicort (asthma); all of which have lost or will be losing patent protection in the near future. According to a company press release generic competition cut revenues by $2.0 billion in 2011 whereas government price interventions cost the company another $1.0 billion. The announced job cuts are expected to save AZ $1.6 billion by 2014—great news for shareholders but not so much for the employees who are losing their jobs!

Most of the cuts will take place in R&D. To that end, the company will close its facility in Montreal and layoff staff at its Soedertaelje site in Sweden. Interestingly, the company plans on focusing more on neuroscience and intends to hire 40 to 50 scientists in its new Innovative Medicine unit which is partly based in Boston, MA and Cambridge in England.

While layoffs at AZ were expected, the size of the current layoff does not bode well for other pharmaceutical employees. It is becoming increasingly clear that big pharma companies are getting out of R&D and focusing their efforts on M&A and licensing deals to fill their thinning pipelines. Also, while shedding R&D and sales jobs in developed markets, big pharma companies are investing heavily in building facilities and hiring thousands of R&D and sales personnel in emerging markets. From my perspective, it appears that big pharma has consciously decided to abandon developed Western markets where sales growth is in the single digits in favor of emerging ones where double digit growth is expected for the next decade.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!


Oops…Novartis Does It Again!

Posted in BioEducation

Earlier this week, I suggested in a post that pharma layoffs were beginning to decline whereas biotech layoffs were rising. And wouldn’t you know it, just when big pharma employees thought that their jobs were safe, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis today announced that it was laying off 2,000 US employees. According to a post on the Pharmalot blog, 1,630 sales reps and an additional 300 positions will be eliminated at Novartis’ Hanover, NJ US headquarters. Last fall, Novartis eliminated 1,100 jobs in Switzerland, 900 R&D and 1,400 sales reps in The US and another 550 jobs at a manufacturing site in the UK 

While the announced layoffs may be part of a global downsizing effort that began last year, many analysts believe Novartis decided to reorganize because its new hypertension drug, Tekturna, performed poorly in clinical trials (increased incidence of non-fatal stroke, renal complications, hyperkalemia and hypotension) to garner approval of the drug to treat patients with Type II diabetes who are a greater risk of cardiovascular and renal events. The company’s best-selling hypertension medicine Diovan lost patent protection in Europe earlier this year and it due to expire in the US next September.

Company executives were betting on Tekturna to replace hypertension sales lost to generic competition for Diovan. Tekturna, approved in Europe as Rasilez, generated sales of $449 million during the first nine months of the past fiscal year but the poor clinical trials results suggest that it may be difficult for the drug to generate the $1.4 billion in annual sales (by 2016) forecasted by many financial analysts.

Stay tuned for more big pharma layoff updates!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!


Merck Continues Its Eastward Expansion

Posted in BioBusiness

Merck today announced that it will establish an Asia Research and Development headquarters in Beijing, China as part of a $1.5 billion commitment the company made to invest in China over the next five years.

The new headquarters will be focused on new drug discovery and development. Merck’s Asian commercial operations (known as MSD outside of the US and Canada) are located in Shanghai, China and will remain a separate entity from the new R&D center in Beijing. In addition to these facilities, MSD possesses manufacturing capabilities at many other locations throughout China.

Merck joins a growing list of big pharma companies that are rapidly establishing R&D centers in China and other emerging markets. With this in mind, don’t expect US R&D jobs to return to the US anytime soon! Now, may be a good time for American students to reconsider an anticipated career in life sciences R&D. On the other hand, the future is bright for Chinese life sciences graduate students and postdocs who are training in the US.

While Horace Greeley may have gotten it right in his day, I think the saying “Go East young man/women” may be more apt for the 21st century life sciences industry.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!


Sanofi Aventis Announces New Layoffs

Posted in BioJobBuzz

Despite a lull in layoffs over the past summer, this fall is shaping up to another bad one for pharmaceutical employees. Late last week Novartis announced that it was laying off about 2,000 employees. Prior to the Novartis announcement, Amgen, AstraZeneca, and Merck have all disclosed plans to eliminate thousands of jobs on a worldwide basis.  To add insult to injury, Sanofi Aventis told its employees today that the company would be shifting operations from New Jersey to Massachusetts and that hundred of employees would be losing their jobs. While a Sanofi spokesperson refused to specify the exact number of employees who may lose their jobs, estimates are in the hundreds, mainly in R&D and sales in the oncology and cardiovascular areas.

The announcement was not unexpected because several weeks ago the company announced that it would cut another $2.9 billion in costs to offset pending generic encroachment on its top selling medications Plavix and Avapro. Further, consolidation of Sanofi’s R&D operations and its early development work to the Boston area is mainly a result of its acquisition of Genzyme earlier this year. To that end, later-stage development work will remain at Sanofi’s headquarters in Bridgewater, NJ while pharmaceutical R&D, Sanofi Pasteur biologics and global oncology has already been moved to Massachusetts. At present, Sanofi employs about 3,000 people in New Jersey and 5,000 in Massachusetts (including Genzyme employees).

Interestingly, while job cuts are taking place in western markets, hiring is brisk in emerging like China and India. For example, several months ago Pfizer announced that it was closing down its antibiotic discovery program in the US and moving it to China. Likewise, Novartis plans on sending some medicinal chemistry and regulatory work overseas to India. If the downsizing and outsourcing trends continue at their current pace, it will become increasingly difficult for most Americans to find pharmaceutical R&D jobs in the US. Can anybody still wonder why we may be losing ground to countries like India and China?

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!


So Much for The Promise of RNAi!!!

Posted in BioBusiness

Several years ago RNAi was hot and it was touted as a technology that would revolutionize modern pharmaceutical science. I never thought RNAi had much promise beyond being a research tool but what do I know? 

With this in mind, I felt exonerated today after reading that Roche had divested all of its RNAi assets to a small Madison, WI drug discovery company called Arrowhead Research. In exchange for the assets, Roche acquired an equity position in the company.  About a year ago Roche formally announced that it was exiting the RNAi business, but until now was unable to find a buyer. 

According to a press release, Arrowhead now owns the Roche Madison Inc facility (formerly the Mirus R&D facility in Madison, WI), which employs a team of 40 scientists. Arrowhead also gets licenses from several leading firms, including Tekmira Pharmaceuticals for RNAi drug delivery technology and Alnylam for RNAi intellectual property and short interfering RNA structures. Arrowhead was already in the RNAi delivery space.

Previously, Roche spent roughly a half-billion dollars to amass its position in RNAi, including $331 million paid to Alnylam Pharmaceuticals in 2007 for access to RNAi technology and $125 million for the purchase of Mirus Bio in 2008. Arrowhead, in contrast, is paying Roche no money for these and other assets; instead it is giving the Swiss firm an ownership stake of slightly under 10%.

Many other big pharma companies have also abandoned their efforts in the RNAi space. While RNAi works in the lab as a research tool, the inability to successfully deliver it to internal cellular targets has prevent companies from commercializing it. I hate to say it, but “I told you so.”

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!


Tis The Season: Novartis to Cut 2,000 Jobs

Posted in BioJobBuzz

It seems that big pharma always waits for early Fall to announce pending job cuts. Novartis, Europe’s second largest pharmaceutical company, announced two days ago that it would eliminate 2,000 jobs mainly in the US and Switzerland but add new employees to operations in emerging markets like India and China. Novartis is just another addition to a growing list of big pharma companies that are slashing jobs in the US and Europe and hiring new employees in lower cost markets.

The announce cuts represent a 1 percent reduction in Novartis’ global workforce. The cuts will be implemented over the next three years and are predicted to save the company in excess of $200 million annually. 

According to a company spokesperson, Novartis will eliminate 1,100 jobs in Switzerland, with the balance in the U.S., Jimenez said. Some research will be moved to the U.S. from Switzerland, and reductions will be made in technical research and development, data management, clinical trial monitoring, drug safety and regulatory affairs. Novartis will add 700 positions in China and India in data management and trial monitoring.

As part of the reorganization and job cuts the company will close an over-the-counter drug manufacturing plant in Nyon, Switzerland and chemical production facilities in Basel and Torre, Italy.

The current cuts come after Novartis announced last November that it would eliminate 1400 U.S. sales jobs and more recently in March that it would reduce operations in the UK.

Although life science pundits recently suggested that job cuts in the pharmaceutical industry are slowing and may have hit rock bottom, it appears that the carnage is still taking place and will likely continue well into the future as more resources and monies are invested in emerging markets.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting