2,400 jobs at risk as Pfizer shuts homeof Viagra

The US pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer is to close the UK research and development centre which came up with its successful Viagra impotence drug, hitting thousands of jobs in the South of England.

The group said it will close the Sandwich, Kent, site over the next 18 to 24 months as part of a global effort to refocus its research and development (R&D) operations. The centre, which has been a part of Pfizer's drug discovery operations since the 1950s, employs some 2,400 people.

The majority of the workforce at the site will be made redundant, the company said as it issued annual results yesterday, though "several hundred" may be transferred elsewhere.

The Business Secretary, Vince Cable, said the announcement was "extremely disappointing", and that the Coalition will meet with the group to look at alternative uses for the site. The local MP, Laura Sandys, said Pfizer's decision was a "body blow to East Kent".

"I am particularly concerned for all those employees at Sandwich Pfizer and small businesses that are associated with the company, and will do all I can to support them through this difficult time," Mrs Sandys said.

The shadow Business Secretary, John Denham, said the development was "huge personal snub for David Cameron".

"He telephoned Pfizer and the biggest pharmaceutical companies encouraging them in his own words to innovate, invest and employ people in the UK," he said. "But the following month Pfizer announced [that] they are leaving their research site in Kent."

Other notable discoveries the Sandwich site was responsible for include the Norvasc heart drug.

Colin Blakemore, the professor of neuroscience at the University of Oxford, said the fate of the site was a "shocking wake-up call", adding: "We must respond to this signal that one of our most important industries no longer has confidence in the future of British science."

News of the closure comes as Ian Read, Pfizer's newly appointed chief executive, unveiled plans to reduce the drug maker's R&D budget by as much as $2bn (£1.2bn) in 2012. The cutbacks follow investor concern about the sustainability of earnings growth, and come less than a year before Lipitor, Pfizer's blockbuster cholesterol drug, loses marketing exclusivity in the US.

The group scaled back its sales forecast for 2012, but maintained its earnings hopes thanks to the cuts in R&D spending.

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