GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) will shut down its vaccine R&D branch within its Hamilton, MT, facility, and lay off all of the unit’s 27 employees—part of the pharma giant’s global restructuring of R&D and commercial operations launched last year.
GSK plans to centralize vaccine R&D at a single location that has yet to be decided, company spokeswoman Melinda Stubbee told the Ravalli Republic newspaper of Hamilton.
She said the 27 affected employees will be laid off during 2015, but could not offer the newspaper a more precise timeframe. The 27 are among 221 staffers based at GSK’s Hamilton site.
The Hamilton plant is GSK’s sole manufacturing site for Monophosphoryl lipid A (MPL), a bacterially-derived immunostimulant that according to the company is used in several developmental and commercialized vaccines.
A lipopolysaccharide-derived Toll-like receptor 4 agonist, MPL was developed by Ribi ImmunoChem Research, the company that transformed a chicken coop into the Hamilton vaccine site in 1981.
Ribi ImmunoChem was acquired in 1999 by Corixa, which was acquired six years later by GSK.
In 2011, GSK CEO Sir Andrew Witty led a celebration of the Hamilton plant’s 30th anniversary by addressing employees: “What a great achievement to build not only this building, but to build this community. I hope you all feel proud of the work you have accomplished,” the Republic quoted Witty as saying on the occasion.
In July 2011, the city of Hamilton received a $240,000 grant from Montana’s Big Sky Economic Trust Fund (BSTF) program to assist GSK with the purchase of equipment. In return, GSK agreed to hire up to 32 employees through July 2013. As of an April 2, 2013, update posted on the website of the Ravalli County Economic Development Authority, GSK created 26 of the promised new jobs, which were “scientifically based positions working primarily in the manufacturing center of the Hamilton facility.”
According to GSK’s website, the Hamilton site consists of two manufacturing facilities for MPL in addition to laboratories for process development, medicinal chemistry, and immunology research related to vaccine discovery and development.
Hamilton is one of two sites where GSK operates vaccine facilities in the U.S.; the other is in Marietta, PA.
GSK launched its “pharmaceuticals” restructuring in October 2014, with the goal of improving its ability to respond to changes in market demand. The company has estimated the total cost of the restructuring at £1.5 billion (about $2.3 billion), and the benefit of a projected £1 billion (about $1.5 billion) in annual cost savings over three years. Half of those savings are expected to occur in 2016.