A day on from AstraZeneca’s announcement of 7,300 job cuts, the company was still keeping the UK in suspense with regard to a breakdown of the numbers. UK staff assembled for a meeting at 10 am on Thursday, but as of lunchtime there was still no confirmation of the numbers , with the BBC’s Business Editor Robert Peston tweeting that it was “odd” that the drugmaker was giving “no public guidance” on the UK element of the job cuts. The expected UK losses are “not huge” — the general union GMB speculates 250 to 300, all from the R&D site in Alderley Park, Macclesfield — but other sources inform me that it could be considerably more than that. Either way, added to the company’s mooted worldwide R&D cull (2200 jobs), it very much reflects the endemic crisis plaguing pharma innovation in general.
And, globally, this is a major downsizing exercise, the third restructuring effort in five years (AZ is lighter by 21,600 global staff than it was in 2007). It also exacerbates the blow to UK R&D dealt by Pfizer’s announced closure of its Sandwich facility, just over a year ago to the day. And, coming just a day after disgraced former Royal Bank of Scotland boss Sir Fred Goodwin was belatedly stripped of his knighthood for leading RBS into financial collapse, some UK pharma bosses may be feeling a twinge of panic in light of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Professor David Phillips’ reaction to the news: “There has to be some element of state intervention at this stage.” A few Twitter commentators wondered aloud about the former AZ head Sir Tom McKillop losing his knighthood too. Their tongues were firmly in their cheeks, but there is no getting away from the fact that this was a dark day for UK pharma.