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Pfizer closes Sandwich R&D facility

by News team

Pfizer has announced that it is closing its research and development facility in Sandwich, Kent, putting thousands of jobs at risk.

The decision is part of a global R&D strategy that will see Pfizer stop work in certain therapeutic areas, including that of allergy and respiratory medicine, which is based at the Sandwich facility. Two R&D sites in the US are also being targeted for closure, a Pfizer spokesman confirmed.

Steve Wicks, industrial pharmacist and former vice-president of pharmaceutical science and technology at Pfizer, said the closure of the Sandwich facility stems from Pfizer’s need to protect its earnings ahead of some of its major brands — including Lipitor and Viagra — coming off-patent in the US in 2011–12.

“In order to protect its earnings Pfizer is having to cut its research budget from around $8–­8.5bn to $6.5–7bn,” he told The Pharmaceutical Journal: “What we are seeing both in the UK and elsewhere in the world is Pfizer responding to those market conditions.”

Not a severance

Dr Wicks said the closure of the Sandwich site represents a change in Pfizer’s partnership with the UK life sciences industry, rather than a complete severance from it. He predicted that Pfizer will look to acquire drug candidates from small biotech companies in the UK.

“Industrial pharmacists have got to really exploit the change in the way that the industry is moving. We are seeing fewer jobs in large pharmaceutical companies. However, there are a large number of small- and medium-[sized] biotech enterprises that will need industrial pharmacists,” he said.

Jayne Lawrence, chief scientific adviser for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, called the news a real blow to UK R&D.

Society to support Pfizer pharmacists

She added: “We have been in contact with pharmacists at Pfizer to ask what we could usefully do to support them, and we will be staying in active contact.”

Most of the 2,400 positions at the Sandwich site will be made redundant over the next 18–24 months, Pfizer says. However, the company hopes to transfer several hundred positions to other Pfizer sites or external partners.

Closure of the Sandwich facility will leave Pfizer with just one R&D base in the UK, which is in Cambridge, with some specialist researchers based in Aberdeen.

Business secretary Vince Cable and the BioIndustry Association both called the move disappointing, but agreed that the decision is part of a global programme of changes and not a reflection on the UK as a pharmaceutical research location.

Mr Cable said that he, science minister David Willets and health minister Andrew Lansley will work closely with a taskforce — which is being established under the leadership of Kent County Council — to mitigate the impact of Pfizer’s decision on local jobs.

Urgent meetings will also be arranged between ministers, Pfizer and key stakeholders to discuss how the “very well equipped” research facility can continue to be used, and how key strands of the existing research and development portfolio can be taken forward, he said.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 11067619

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