Sector cut almost double the jobs compared to last Jan.

Some numbers released a few days ago by Challenger Gray & Christmas illustrate just how much the pharmaceutical industry is relying on layoffs to weather the challenges wrought by the patent cliff and other factors. Pharma companies last month announced plans to cut a total 4,071 jobs—nearly double the 2,090 layoffs announced in January 2011.

By contrast, the number of planned layoffs across all industries announced in January—53,486—was 39% above the 38,519 recorded for the same period a year earlier. Even more interesting: Pharma was the industry with the third highest number of layoffs in January, behind the retail (12,400 layoffs) and financial (7,611) sectors.

That retail and financial services are so high up that list is no surprise. Retail continues to be convulsed by restructurings, store closings, and other cost-cutting as recession-wracked consumers change their spending habits; the numbers do not include the ups and downs of seasonal hiring for the December holidays. And financial services has been shedding jobs under the one-two punch of the recession, then the new Dodd-Frank law, which limits pay and bonuses.

But what might be surprising is how few companies account for so many of the jobs being lost in pharma. Of the 4,071 reported by Challenger Gray about half are being cut by a single company, Novartis. On January 13 it said it would cut 1,960 U.S. jobs, including 1,630 sales positions, starting in the second quarter. Novartis blamed the restructuring on the loss of U.S. patent exclusivity in September for hypertension medicine Diovan. The firm noted that it accelerated its restructuring plans after the December termination of its Altitute clinical trial of direct renin inhibitor Rasilez/Tekturna in a high-risk population of type 2 diabetes patients with renal impairment.

Also in January, Japanese-owned Takeda said it would shed 700 U.S. jobs as part of a 2,800-job reduction that will mostly occur in Europe. The lost jobs will include R&D personnel, commercial operations, and G&A positions, Takeda has said. The company cited the need to integrate operations from Nycomed, acquired last year, and to eliminate redundancies.

Another 700 layoffs were announced in January by Abbott—300 at its stent production plant in Temecula, CA; 200 at its diagnostics business at Lake County, IL, headquarters; and another 200 pharma manufacturing positions. Most of those will be in Puerto Rico, though the rest will be scattered across other sites, a spokeswoman told Mass Device at the time.

Abbott has also threatened to cut “several hundred” more jobs by year’s end due to the planned sell-off of its pharma business, whose still-strong top performer, the anti-inflammatory drug Humira, loses patent protection in 2016. The stent layoffs were Abbott’s response to the expiration later this year of a contract to supply its Promus stent to Boston Scientific, which will manufacture internally a new version of the product.

A smaller layoff was announced January 19 by Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, which disclosed plans for “an approximately 33% reduction” in its workforce at its Cambridge, MA, headquarters. While the company didn’t give solid numbers in its announcement, Xconomy estimated 56 workers would leave the company, based on a third-quarter filing with the SEC in which it said it had 171 employees. Alnylam said the cuts were part of a restructuring designed to elevate its early-stage RNAi therapies for transthyretin-mediated amyloidosis (now in Phase I, according to Alnylam’s website) and hemophilia (in development stage).

The pharma layoff numbers for February already appear to be sizeable, though it’s too early, of course, to say if they will approach those of January. When Challenge Gray comes out with next month’s layoff report, expect to see at least about 2,000 jobs cut in pharma. On February 2, AstraZeneca announced plans to shed 1,500 U.S. operations and sales jobs, plus 80 to 220 U.S. research jobs in an as-yet-undetermined combination of the following sites: Waltham, MA; Wilmington, DE; Gaithersburg, MD (where AZ bought MedImmune in 2007), and Woodland Hills, CA. The cuts are part of an overall reduction of 7,300 jobs worldwide, including 2,200 R&D positions.

Given the trend, the question is not so much whether other biopharma companies will join AZ in announcing layoffs this month and the rest of 2012; it’s a question of who will join them?

Previous articleUCB Engages Nodality for Single Cell Network Profiling Technology
Next articleVoters Split on Expanding a Biodefense Program Beyond the Former USSR