350 jobs saved at Pfizer research centre

Drugs giant Pfizer is to retain around 350 jobs at the site of its doomed leading UK research centre, it has been announced.

The firm said in February that more than 2,000 jobs would be lost in up to two years' time following the closure of its renowned research and development (R&D) facility in Sandwich, Kent.

But now Pfizer has announced that it will retain a partial pharmaceutical sciences operation, while continuing its phased exit of the rest of the site by the end of 2012.

The company said it hopes that new investors will be attracted to join them at the site now that it has pledged to maintain a presence there.

Pfizer said the positions will support the development of products in its mid and late-stage pipeline.

A review of the operation will take place within a few years, a spokesman said.

The company said in a statement: "Pfizer's intent, as announced in February, was to secure an external partner that would assume responsibility for some R&D capabilities and colleagues at the site.

"After a rigorous diligence process, Pfizer determined that retaining a portion of its pharmaceutical sciences operation at Sandwich presents the best solution at this time for Pfizer's business."

Dr Ruth McKernan, from Pfizer, said: "We are hopeful that by retaining this core group at Sandwich, Pfizer will be the first of many companies to locate on the site.

"We remain focused on securing new owners and investment into Discovery Park."

Dr Annette Doherty, who will take over from Dr McKernan as the new site director at Sandwich, said: "Pfizer's retained pharmaceutical sciences operations at Sandwich will maintain a nucleus of industry leading talent, skills and capabilities in science and technology at the site.

"It will be a key part of my role as site director to support the hard work that is being done to find new uses for the site, and continue to support colleagues through the transition as we proceed with our phased exit of the site."

Kent County Council welcomed Pfizer's announcement to retain jobs in Sandwich and said the aim now was to secure further businesses at the site.

Council leader Paul Carter said: "Securing 350 jobs on site by Pfizer is a step in the right direction and is positive news.

"We must now work with Pfizer and their marketing agent CBRE to secure further investors and businesses on-site, and encourage inward investment and occupancy in a whole array of business activity."

When Pfizer announced the closure in Sandwich, medical experts said it was a "devastating" blow for British science, coming as the latest in a series of UK R&D job cuts as the industry moves to slash costs.

Pfizer has a history at Sandwich dating back more than 50 years and the Kent R&D site lays claim to some of the world's biggest medical discoveries, including blockbuster drug Viagra.

Before the latest announcement, its closure threatened 2,400 staff directly employed at the Sandwich site and result in significant indirect job losses through contractors and the supply chain supporting Pfizer's business.

News of Pfizer's pull-out from Sandwich followed mammoth job cuts announced by GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca in recent years.

The Royal Society of Chemistry estimated that nearly 6,000 jobs have gone over the last 12 months from UK drugs and science firms.