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Sales reps aren't the only ones heading for the unemployment line - Pfizer is eliminating researcher positions as fewer drugs are making it to development. But could streamlining the crux of drug R&D cause more harm than good?
Pfizer, this week, quietly began releasing approximately 5 to 8 percent if its global research and development workforce. While the company has only reported the percentage of positions being eliminated, estimates are that up to 800 researchers could be affected.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson told Pharm Exec that the layoffs are R&D-specific, and that the restructuring will affect every site around the world.
“We have not given a breakdown as to site-by-site cuts,” said Ray Kerins, Pfizer’s head of global media relations. “What we’ve tried to do is look at staffing in a methodical way, and, based on the plan Dr. [Martin] Mackay has put in place, try to make staffing decisions based on the scientific expertise we will need in the future.”
Mackay, Pfizer’s head of R&D, is focusing on Phase II and III drugs and prioritizing the company’s portfolio. This means that Pfizer will be exiting areas where it hasn’t had much success, while keeping research staff in positive areas such as pain, Alzheimer’s, and oncology.
“The idea here is to focus on the scientific expertise that we need, based on the plan that [Mackay] put in place about a year ago,” Kerins said. “From our standpoint, this announcement is clearly indicative of the plan.”
Play to WinAs reported in October, Pfizer restructured its R&D program into a therapeutic-centered model, focusing on “best win” areas where Pfizer has had success. As part of the plan, development was moved from R&D into the business unit. The premise is that if the business unit is working with development in the creation of new drugs, then decisions can be made earlier on as to whether a compound will advance to later stage development or be shelved.
“Like everyone else, Pfizer has been rationalizing their portfolio towards those areas that will have the greatest value and return,” said Deutsche Bank analyst Barbara Ryan. “The restructuring is positive and needs to happen. The industry has to continue to innovate in order to have revenue growth as they lose patent protection.”
At this week’s JP Morgan conference in San Francisco, Mackay said that Pfizer now-for the first time-has the option of out-licensing the compounds that the business unit decides not to invest in.
“In the past, they might not have gone anywhere, and just sit on a shelf,” Kerins said “Now we’re saying that we are going to take those assets and license them to maximize their potential.”
New Board Member
In other Pfizer news, the company on Wednesday elected Stephen W. Sanger to its board of directors. He is a veteran executive of General Mills and serves as board director of Target and Wells Fargo.