Back in late 2014, when the company outlined plans to lay off 900 staffers in its WARN letter to the state, GSK had a sizable 2,500 R&D workforce in RTP. Today, a spokesperson tells me that’s dwindled down to about 400 as the company followed through on its cost-reduction plan.
Hundreds of the workers were transferred to GSK’s CRO, Parexel, which promptly turned around and laid many of the same workers off in its own downsizing effort — outsourcing the layoffs, so to speak.
“Today there is a very much reduced scale of R&D activity in RTP,” says the spokesperson for GSK. “What remains in RTP is some infectious disease research (including ViiV folks), late-stage research groups, regulatory and medical functions.” A “handful” of those people may still be in transition, she adds.
GSK, though, is still investing heavily in R&D, as its $250 million lab project underscores. The company spends about $4.4 billion per year on R&D.
Makeovers like this have become the rule rather than the exception in Big Pharma. Novartis’ latest rejigger happened weeks ago, as Merck was overhauling its ops with an eye to creating a new hub in the Bay Area. AstraZeneca is building a South San Francisco research hub as well. Pfizer long ago relocated much of its research staff into Boston/Cambridge, warning at the time that there would always be a focus on refining and changing in the face of new R&D priorities. Shire has been relocating staffers into its Boston-area HQ. And so on.So what happened to those 2,100 people? How many of those people left science? I suppose we'll never know.
The inability of the media (including myself, I guess) to accurately measure headcount in pharma R&D is a continuing problem in being able to accurately quantify the quality of the chemistry job market; this is a disappointment.