Novartis confirmed it will eliminate some 500 R&D positions companywide while adding 175 jobs in Cambridge, MA, where the pharma giant has its research headquarters.

“This is not a pleasant decision for the people affected,” Novartis research chief Mark C. Fishman told The Boston Globe about the restructuring, which the newspaper reported today and said was disclosed to employees Wednesday. “But our goal is to continue to make great medicine, and we have to be efficient to do it. This is not an attempt to cut research and development. It’s an attempt to reallocate resources in a more efficient way.”

He said the Cambridge jobs will be filled by a mix of new employees and staffers relocating to the area from two sites where Novartis is cutting jobs—Emeryville, CA, where a cancer research program will be shut down, and Horsham, West Sussex, U.K., where the company said this week it will shut down its respiratory R&D site, idling its 371 employees, just two years after downsizing R&D operations there.

Last month Novartis confirmed to GEN that it planned to eliminate some 50 research jobs among its more than 900 positions based at its Emeryville-based vaccines and diagnostics division, which the company acquired when it bought Chiron in 2006. “Novartis plans to strengthen the focus of the Emeryville site on its diagnostics business and will continue its operations there related to pharmaceutical and medical research,” the company said at the time.

The Emeryville cutbacks come as Novartis is said to be seeking buyers for its vaccines division as well as its over-the-counter and animal health businesses, according to a Bloomberg report that cited two unnamed sources. The Horsham shutdown is one of two U.K. job reductions confirmed by Novartis in recent days; the other is the elimination of marketing for diabetes and COPD products, which is expected to result in loss of 72 jobs.

As part of its companywide restructuring, Novartis will also shut down two other R&D sites—one in San Diego focused on developing biologics, the other in Vienna specializing in dermatology research.

Fishman also told the Globe that Novartis may hire additional researchers as early as next year, so the net job loss from the R&D restructuring could end up less than 325 positions.

Novartis is one of several pharma giants to announce R&D cutbacks in 2013, as companies scramble to cut drug development costs that often exceed $1 billion by shrinking their multibillion-dollar in-house research operations. Last month, Merck & Co. said it will eliminate 8,500 jobs over the next two years through a restructuring of R&D and commercial operations that the company said will save it $2.5 billion a year when fully implemented in 2015. And in March, AstraZeneca disclosed it will cut 1600 employees in a global R&D restructuring that will consolidate small molecule and biologics R&D in three sites worldwide.

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