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AstraZeneca axes another 7,300 jobs worldwide


The pharmaceuticals industry was dealt a fresh blow today after AstraZeneca announced a further 7,300 job cuts amid warnings that its profits will slide this year.

The UK's second biggest drugs maker, which has 61,000 staff globally, said it was too early to say how many of its 8,000 staff in the UK would be affected.

It has already cut 21,600 staff globally since 2007 as part of two previous restructuring initiatives, including the closure of a site at Charnwood near Loughborough at the end of last year.

Unions have said that 250 to 300 of the latest cuts will be in research and development at the firm's site in Alderley Park, Cheshire, while there would be further back office cuts at other UK sites.

Its other sites in the UK are at Macclesfield, Cambridge, Luton, Avlon near Bristol, Paddington in London, and Brixham in Devon.

The latest round of cuts comes a year after rival Pfizer said it would pull the plug on its plant in Sandwich, Kent, which employed 2,400 staff.

The pharmaceuticals industry has come under pressure because its major players have struggled to invent new blockbuster drugs as patents on existing best sellers expire, leaving them open to cheap competition. Governments are also looking to reduce the prices they charge.

The industry's problems are a particular worry for the UK, which is a world leader in the field. Some 67,000 people work in the industry in the UK, of which more than a third are in research and development.

The Government, which hopes manufacturers will spearhead the recovery, has introduced lower taxes on patents to try to encourage companies to carry out more research in the UK.

Allan Black, GMB national officer for pharmaceuticals, said: "These cutting-edge research and development jobs are both well-paid and essential for a thriving UK economy.

"As a nation we do need to find a viable way to continue to make breakthroughs in bringing to safe use much-needed new medicines."

The jobs blow came as the Cheshire-based company announced a 2 per cent fall in revenues to 33.3 billion US dollars (£21.1 billion) in 2011, while profits fell 4 per cent to 13.2 billion US dollars (£8.4 billion).

Shares were down 3 per cent as the company warned that revenues for 2012 are likely to be down by more than 10 per cent while its margins will also be squeezed, leading to lower profits.

The Anglo-Swedish company has suffered a number of setbacks in its efforts to secure approval for new blockbuster drugs.

It recently warned that profits would be at the low end of analysts' expectations after ovarian cancer drug olaparib was held back for further development when tests proved it was unlikely to prove effective.

The results of tests on drugs for patients with major depressive disorders were disappointing so far, and the US Food and Drug Administration recently declined approval of a new diabetes drug dapagliflozin.

Analysts have also been underwhelmed by sales of its new blood thinning drug Brilinta.

In addition, its anti-psychotic drug Seroquel will lose exclusivity in the United States and many European countries this year.

Astra warned that the coming years would be "challenging for the industry and for the company".

Chief executive David Brennan said: "Disciplined execution of our strategy has delivered a good performance in 2011 in the face of intensified pricing pressure and generic competition.

"While the further expected losses of market exclusivity make for a challenging 2012 outlook, we remain committed to a long-term, focused, research and development based strategy, and today we have announced further steps to drive productivity in all areas to improve returns on our investment in innovation."

Despite the cost-cutting measures announced today, it announced a 10 per cent hike in its dividend and plans to return an additional 4.5 billion US dollars (£2.9 billion) to shareholders in 2012 on top of the 9.4 billion US dollars (£6 billion) last year.