AstraZeneca is to stop research into 10 diseases to cut costs

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 08 March 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c1365
  1. Andrew Jack
  1. 1Financial Times

    AstraZeneca, the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical group, is to reduce its staff, shut operations, and cease research into several diseases as part of a wide ranging restructuring, unveiled at the start of March.

    The company will close some research centres in the United Kingdom, Sweden, and the United States and is set to cut 3500 posts in research and development by 2014. When new jobs are taken into account, the net loss of jobs is likely to be 1800.

    It will stop all future research into 10 diseases, including acid reflux, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, which represent some of the company’s most important blockbuster drugs, including esomeprazole magnesium (sold in the UK as Nexium) and quetiapine (Seroquel).

    The move marks an intensifying effort by AstraZeneca—as with other companies, including GlaxoSmithKline—to extend cost cutting measures, previously seen in the areas of administration, manufacturing, and marketing, into research and development.

    It announced earlier this year that 8000 posts would be cut across the company, on top of 4000 since 2007, which has reduced its workforce worldwide to 63 000. It warned that patent expiries in the next few years could put sharp pressure on sales.

    AstraZeneca said it would maintain all its existing seven broad treatment areas: cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, oncology, respiratory, inflammation, neuroscience, and infection. But it will stop further drug development work into specific diseases within these categories, including thrombosis, acid reflux, ovarian and bladder cancers, systemic scleroderma, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, hepatitis C, and vaccines other than respiratory syncytial virus and influenza.

    The move marks a further blow to research into mental illness, after GlaxoSmithKline’s closure of its research in this area, which it announced recently. Cuts in research into mental illness are also spurred by a belief that the science and the end points against which to measure progress are particularly difficult.

    In the UK AstraZeneca will close its research and development sites at Charnwood, in Leicestershire, and Cambridge, reduce operations in Bristol, and close the London office of its subsidiary Arrow Therapeutics while expanding staffing at its main UK centre at Alderley Park, Cheshire.

    In Sweden it will shut its Lund site and expand its pivotal Mölndal research centre. In the US it will cut research in Wilmington, while expanding its centre in Boston.

    Anders Ekbom, executive vice president of development, said, “We have made strides in improving our efficiency in recent years, but there is a need to adapt in anticipation of future challenges.”

    After a series of setbacks with “first in class” drugs that failed in recent years, the company plans to reorganise research and development into smaller “i-meds” or research units that are designed to strengthen accountability of employees and recreate the entrepreneurial atmosphere typical of small biotechnology companies.

    GlaxoSmithKline said last month that research cuts, including closure of two centres working on depression in Verona, Italy, and Harlow, Essex, would contribute about £250m (€280m; $380m) in annual savings, with “hundreds” of jobs lost in the UK.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c1365

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