Pierre Fabre said it will lay off a total 551 jobs—nearly all of them in France—by 2016, as part of a five-year repositioning that will narrow the company’s drug development focus while growing its skin cosmetics operations in the U.S. and Asia.

The company will cut 272 R&D jobs, by shrinking its research and development staff from 948 to 653 by 2016, maintaining operations in France’s Midi-Pyrenees (Toulouse-Oncopole, Castres, Gaillac) and Haute-Savoie (Saint-Julien-en-Genevois) regions. All but 17 of the R&D jobs to be eliminated are in France; the rest are based in Barcelona, Spain.

France is where Pierre Fabre bases 6,500 of its total 10,000 employees.

The workforce reduction reflects a restructuring of R&D around three therapeutic areas—oncology, neuropsychiatry, and dermatology. Each area will command its own unit within R&D, focused on three “expertise platforms” or specialties,” new biotechnology entities, new chemical entities, and clinical development.

Pierre Fabre also said it will eliminate 279 additional jobs from its sales force, which will shrink from 928 to 547 positions.

In a statement published in French and translated via Google Translate, Pierre Fabre blamed the layoffs on a “very weakened” pharma operation, owing to what it called “insufficiently productive” R&D “and significant loss of activity in France” due to mandatory government price cuts on older drugs and rapid ramp-up of generics. Since 2009, the company stated, its pharmaceuticals division has generated €100 million ($123.9 million) less across all categories except oncology.

By contrast, Pierre Fabre’s Dermo-Cosmetics branch has grown to represent 55% of sales, “and contributes to the essential dynamic growth of the Group's results,” the company added.

The company insisted its reduced sales staff would be able to maintain “medical promotion activity among general practitioners, medical specialists, and pharmacists to continue to support existing products and welcome new ones if planned acquisitions or partnerships were to materialize.”

While cutting its pharma operations, Pierre Fabre said, it also intends to expand its Dermo-Cosmetics branch, “especially in Asia where the brand Avène Thermal Spring Water is already a strong commercial success, [as well as] in the United States, with the launch of an innovative treatment in dermatology and pediatrics.” Avène is one of Pierre Fabre’s cosmetics brands, as are A_Derma, Drill, Ducray, Elancyl, Galenic, Klorane, and Rene Furterer.

Pierre Fabre said the job cuts and cosmetics expansion were components of a restructuring effort called Trajectory 2018. Details of that effort began to be presented yesterday to labor representatives or “works councils” connected with the company.

In cutting French jobs, Pierre Fabre hopes to succeed where Sanofi failed two years ago. Sanofi alarmed both labor leaders and officials in 2012 with plans to slice up to 2,500 jobs, before opposition from leaders of affected unions and France’s President François Hollande forced the company to retreat, saying only a net 207 jobs would be eliminated.

Last week, it was disclosed that Sanofi entered talks to sell one of the affected sites, in Toulouse, to Evotec as part of a five-year strategic drug discovery and preclinical development alliance focused on oncology. Under that deal, expected to be completed in the first half of 2015, Evotec would receive a minimum €250 million ($309.8 million), the company said December 2 in a statement.

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