AstraZeneca cuts UK headcount and moves to Cambridge

In a further demonstration of the lure of the so-called golden triangle, pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca has announced plans to relocate its UK-based research and development activities from Cheshire to Cambridge.

The firm is aiming to “consolidate” its R&D activities in three global centres by 2016. A new £330 million facility, which will also serve as the firm’s new corporate headquarters, will be built in Cambridge.

The firm’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot, described the city as a “world-renowned bioscience hotspot”, which also offered “strong links with London-based research institutions”.

“In a world where partnerships and collaborations drive medical progress, becoming an integral part of the Cambridge ecosystem offers compelling advantages for AstraZeneca, giving us easier access to leading-edge academic and industry networks, scientific talent and valuable partnering opportunities,” he said.

Concerns have previously been expressed that too much of the UK’s research activity is concentrated in the “golden triangle” of London, Cambridge and Oxford, to the detriment of other regions.

Mr Soriot described the investment in Cambridge as “a clear signal of AstraZeneca’s long-term commitment to the UK”.

“The Government’s Life Sciences Strategy and the meaningful policies they have put in place in recent years to encourage investment help make Britain an attractive location for biopharmaceutical research and development,” he said.

However, the restructuring will see the closure of the firm’s existing R&D facility at Alderley Park in Cheshire, with the loss of 2,200 jobs - only around 1,600 of which will be relocated to Cambridge.

Mr Soriot said the firm’s “extensive and close scientific collaborations” with universities in the north-west of England, such as Manchester, would “continue to play an important role in discovery work”.

David Willetts, minister for universities and science, pledged to work with AstraZeneca to ensure Alderley Park – which is in chancellor George Osborne’s constituency - had “a prosperous future”. He described the company’s investment in Cambridge as “a real vote of confidence in the UK life sciences sector”.

However, John Hardy, professor of neuroscience at University College London described AstraZeneca’s reduction of its UK headcount as “a terrible blow to the UK pharmaceutical industry” born of the company’s short-termism and “a hostile regulatory climate towards animal - especially rodent – work”. 

The firm’s move comes as the entire pharmaceutical industry struggles to maintain the pipeline of new drugs in the “post-blockbuster” age. In 2011 Pfizer announced the closure of its research facility at Sandwich in Kent.

The other AstraZeneca R&D facilities will be located in the US and Sweden.

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