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Job cuts double in 2023; Pfizer, BMS, Novartis, Biogen downsize to cut costs
The year 2023 has seen considerable job cuts by biopharmaceutical companies. While layoffs have become commonplace since 2022, the exercise touched new heights this year. The reasons behind these job cuts have ranged from restructuring, drop in Covid sales, fall in quarterly revenues to shift in strategy and mergers and acquisitions.In 2022, over 100 biopharma companies had announced workforce reductions. That number has doubled in 2023. And the year has not ended as yet.In Q1 2023, the number of companies that had announced layoffs surpassed 50 and included companies like Biogen and Thermo Fisher. Between mid-April and November, this figure rose even further, with approximately 140 pharmaceutical companies disclosing workforce reductions.View Our Interactive Dashboard on Biopharma Layoffs in 2023 (Free Excel Available)Biogen, Amgen, layoff staff post mergers; low Q2 sales trigger job cuts at BMSIn our Q1 2023 update, we had mentioned that both Novartis and Biogen plan to cut jobs worldwide to save US$ 1 billion in costs. Starting November, Novartis will retrench over 100 employees at its US headquarters in East Hanover (New Jersey). Similarly, Biogen announced plans to layoff around 113 employees from Reata Pharmaceuticals’ Plano, Texas site in the US. Biogen had acquired Reata for US$ 7.3 billion in July this year, and the job cuts were announced promptly after the acquisition.Another company that announced post-merger retrenchments is Amgen, which had acquired Horizon Therapeutics in December 2022 for US$ 27.8 billion. Amgen has been aggressively cutting costs. Earlier this year, it had laid off 750 employees due to intensifying pressure on drug prices and inflation. And now, it is issuing pink slips to 350 former Horizon employees.The going has also been tough for Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) — it reported low Q2 revenues and had to cut its full-year forecasts as two of its top drugs, blood cancer treatment Revlimid and blood thinner Eliquis, saw a drop in sales due to competition from generics. As a result, BMS laid off 48 employees in New Jersey in May, and plans to do away with another 100-odd employees soon.Nearly a year after GSK spun off its consumer healthcare business to create Haleon, there are reports that hundreds in the United Kingdom and potentially thousands working globally for Haleon are at the risk of losing their jobs. The restructuring is likely to save GBP 300 million (US$ 393 million) over the next three years.View Our Interactive Dashboard on Biopharma Layoffs in 2023 (Free Excel Available)Pfizer, Thermo Fisher, Novavax announce layoffs due to declining Covid salesIn October, Pfizer had significantly lowered its full-year revenue forecast for 2023 due to reduced demand for its Covid products. The drug behemoth has also announced cost-cutting measures such as layoffs and expense cuts that will help save US$ 3.5 billion.During the same month, Pfizer announced plans to retrench 791 employees at its Gladstone site in the US. A month later, the company announced 800 job cuts, by reducing staff at its Kent (the UK), Michigan (the US), and Newbridge, Kildare (Ireland) sites.Thermo Fisher Scientific has been downsizing its workforce at different locations since last year. The company manufactures Covid testing kits. In our Q1 2023 update, we had mentioned that the company laid off around 500 employees across various locations in California between January 2022 and mid-April 2023.In a fresh wave of job cuts announced in November, Thermo Fisher will layoff 97 employees in January 2024. The company plans to close its facility in Alabama. Earlier in August, the company fired 205 staffers across two separate sites in Alachua, Florida, due to the relocation of development, manufacturing, and production activities from this site to their new Plainville, Massachusetts site.In November, Covid vaccine maker Novavax announced second round of cost cuts for 2023 in order to reduce spending by US$ 300 million. In May, Novavax had reduced its headcount by 25 percent to align its spending with the diminishing size of the Covid opportunity.Similarly, in June, contract manufacturer Catalent said it plans to retrench 150 employees at its Bloomington, Indiana plant. Catalent has been working closely with drugmakers to manufacture Covid vaccines and therapies, and the job cuts are part of its post-pandemic restructuring exercise.View Our Interactive Dashboard on Biopharma Layoffs in 2023 (Free Excel Available)Shifts in strategy, restructuring trigger layoffs at Takeda, PTC Therapeutics, ApellisIn May, Takeda had announced a shift in its R&D strategy, leading to 186 layoffs in Massachusetts and an additional 27 in San Diego. This announcement follows Takeda’s decision to discontinue discovery and pre-clinical efforts in AAV (adeno-associated virus) gene therapy and rare hematology.In a similar move announced in September, rare disease drugmaker PTC Therapeutics announced retrenchment of 25 percent of its workforce as part of a broader restructuring initiated in May, involving discontinuation of several early-stage gene therapy development programs to focus on high-potential R&D programs. PTC plans to complete the process by January 15. In August, Apellis announced its plan to layoff approximately 225 employees and divest two preclinical assets to achieve US$ 300 million in savings as part of a significant corporate restructuring program. This move aims to drive the growth of Syfovre, an injectable form of pegcetacoplan that received FDA approval for geographic atrophy (GA) in February.During the same month, Sage Therapeutics, a company working on novel therapies for brain health disorders, announced 188 job cuts. These were part of a restructuring plan announced soon after FDA rejected its drug Zurzuvae (developed along with Biogen) for major depressive disorder (MDD). The agency has approved the pill for postpartum depression, which is a much smaller market as compared to MDD.In September, 2seventy bio (a company spun out of bluebird bio) had announced plans to layoff about 40 percent of its workforce (i.e. axe 176 jobs) in order to lower costs and focus on the biotech firm’s cancer cell therapy — Abecma.In August, Emergent BioSolutions decided to cut 400 jobs and scale back operations at some of its facilities, in an effort to move away from its CDMO business and pivot its focus on core products, such as nasal spray Narcan and anthrax vaccines.View Our Interactive Dashboard on Biopharma Layoffs in 2023 (Free Excel Available)Our viewThe biopharmaceutical industry is still grappling with the disruptions caused by Covid. Some of the layoffs reflect a correction, as demand moves back to pre-pandemic days. The others are either a fallout of disappointing quarterly results, or the outcome of normal business restructuring and strategy shifts.While this article was going to print, there was news that Kite Pharma, a subsidiary of Gilead focusing on cell therapies, is letting go off 7 percent of its staff, or around 300 employees in order to improve operational efficiency. Similarly, another genetic medicines company Generation Bio is firing 68 employees. Both these updates follow news that FDA is investigating the  “serious risk” of cancer patients developing secondary blood cancer after undergoing chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapies. Incidentally, several startups focusing on cell and gene therapies (such as Summation Bio, Oncurus Inc, Intergalactic Therapeutics), have had to shut operations due to lack of finance.As we bid farewell to 2023, there are larger concerns of a slowdown in the global economy. For now, it seems like 2024 may not be very different from 2023. 

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30 Nov 2023
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