Unions fight Astra plans to move R&D base south

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Union leaders will meet executives at AstraZeneca today to try to convince Britain's second-biggest drugmaker to reverse plans to close its R&D site in Cheshire and move almost 2,000 jobs.

AstraZeneca wants to move its R&D hub from Alderley Park in Cheshire to Cambridge by 2016.

The pharma giant is suffering as a string of drugs run out of patent, with few new hopes in the pipeline to replace those lost revenues.

Its two top-selling drugs, Nexium ulcer pills and the Crestor cholesterol-buster, see their US patents expire in 2014 and 2016.

On Thursday the company admitted that sales fell 13 per cent to $6.4bn (£4.1bn) in the first three months of this year. Pre-tax profit slumped 36 per cent to $1.3bn.

Scientists at Alderley developed some of today's most commonly used breast cancer treatments, and the local MP is the Chancellor, George Osborne. However at Astra's AGM on Thursday, Pascal Soriot, the chief executive, said the new Cambridge site was crucial for the drugmaker to compete with other global pharmaceutical hubs such as San Francisco.

Unite's regional officer, Gary Owen, said: "The union will be questioning the impact the move to Cambridge could have on the current pipeline and delivery of important new medicines to patients. It's likely to be years before the newly proposed Cambridge site delivers value to the business and its customers."

Mr Owen added: "AstraZeneca's decision to relocate over a thousand jobs to Cambridge is a massive blow for the North-west.

"The company is creating a skills crisis for the local economy, and appear to be making a U-turn on plans for a biotechnology park on the site which involved a £5m grant from the Government.

"Unite will be demanding that AstraZeneca rethinks its decision and looks at alternatives to relocation."