Drug firm Pfizer to close research plant

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US drug maker Pfizer has announced plans to close its major UK research centre in a move affecting up to 2,400 jobs.

The pharmaceutical giant said redundancies at the site at Sandwich, in Kent, would take place over the next 18 months to two years, but added it hoped to secure the transfer of several hundred jobs to other sites or partner companies.

Its jobs blow comes as part of an overhaul of its research and development (R&D) operations worldwide.

The Sandwich site is the European hub of Pfizer's global R&D division and is responsible for major discoveries such as blockbuster drug Viagra.

The site also covers allergy and respiratory R&D - an area Pfizer plans to pull out of.

It currently employs around 5,000 across all operations in the UK, but is aiming to reduce this to 3,000.

Pfizer is slashing R&D spend across the group on top of targeted cost savings of up to 5 billion US dollars (£3.1 billion) by the end of 2012.

Dr Ruth McKernan, senior vice-president and site head at Sandwich, said: "It is with a deep sense of sadness that we announce our proposal to exit our site in Sandwich, Kent.

"It has played an important role in the discovery and development of medicines and has brought many life-saving treatments to patients."

She added: "This decision is no reflection on the site, the workforce or the operating environment in the UK. We recognise that this is a difficult time for colleagues and the community and our priority now, and over the coming weeks and months, is to support our people through this process."

Pfizer also has operations at Walton Oaks in Surrey, Maidenhead, Aberdeen and a R&D site at Cambridge.

The group said no other sites were impacted by today's announcement.

While it is axing the Sandwich base, Pfizer plans to base a new pain and sensory disorders unit in Cambridge.

The latest job cut news follows plans announced last May to axe 6,000 roles worldwide, with Ireland one of the worst-hit countries as three out of its eight sites were earmarked for closure.

Its Sandwich base has already been hit with redundancies in recent years, while Pfizer closed its manufacturing operations at the site in 2007.

Pfizer said it planned to refocus its R&D capabilities on "where the greatest medical and commercial impact can be achieved".

It is cutting R&D costs by between 1.5 billion dollars (£932 million) and 2 billion dollars (£1.2 billion).

The news came as Pfizer reported a 4% drop in 2010 profits, to 8.3 billion US dollars (£5.2 billion).

The move to close the site at Sandwich brings to an end a 57-year history in the town.

Pfizer based its first UK site in Folkestone, Kent, in 1952 before opening a second, larger operation at Sandwich in 1954.

The Sandwich site expanded rapidly throughout the late 1950s and 60s, during which time the Folkestone operation was transferred to the base.

It has a track record of discovering new medicines that have been used worldwide, including erectile dysfunction treatment Viagra, for which the group received the Queen's Award for Enterprise.

The Sandwich-based R&D team also developed Celsentri, the first oral class of HIV treatment in more than a decade, life-saving anti-fungal treatments Diflucan and Vfend and heart disease drugs Istin and Cardura.