More pink slips at AstraZeneca

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AstraZeneca's Thursday news pile included: naming GSK alum Marc Dunoyer its first EVP, global portfolio and product strategy; pocketing options on Moderna Therapeutics' pipeline for $240 million upfront; and this little tidbit—2,300 additional layoffs.

Spokesman Tony Jewell told MM&M that this is the company's first public announcement of the slashed jobs, which will trim sales and administrative staff. Jewell said the majority of the cuts will be in Europe but could not talk percentages or which regions would feel the remaining fallout.

The cuts, to be made over three years, come on top of Monday's announcement of 1,600 cuts, including 820 at the company's Wilmington, Delaware site. Those eliminations came as part of a root-and-branch R&D consolidation that included plans to shutter AstraZeneca's London headquarters and move those operations to Cambridge, UK. The slew of cuts, combined with those announced in February 2012, add up to just over 5,000 to be made from now through 2016.

Like many of the company's cost-cutting announcements, this one led with remarks that the company is determined to grow and “achieve scientific leadership.” AstraZeneca's strategic outline included: accelerating its Phase III pipeline of New Molecular Entities to “create a portfolio more weighted towards specialty care, balancing our traditional strengths in primary care” while reshaping the company's footprint and operating model. Its Moderna Therapeutics deal and a research alliance with the Swedish Medical University (Karolinska Institutet), also announced Thursday, were mentioned as examples of this plan. AstraZeneca also plans to give China particular attention, calling it the “biggest single opportunity” in emerging markets.

AstraZeneca has struggled to replenish revenues after a series of pipeline disappointments and major patent losses. The company booted CEO David Brennan in April 2012 as annual sales fell 17%, year over year, and his replacement, former Roche pharma chief Pascal Soirot, swept out the C-Suite in January, dismissing the heads of R&D and commercial operations.

The Moderna deal lets AstraZeneca cherry-pick "any target of its choice" in cardiometablic diseases and oncology over a span of five years. It also gives AstraZeneca the option to choose up to 40 of Moderna's drug products for clinical development in exchange for milestone payments and royalties once Moderna makes the messenger RNA for the selected targets.

Somewhat countering the layoff news is the Karolinksa Institutet announcement which will put 20 to 30 scientists to work at an integrated translational researcher center that will investigate cardiovascular and metabolic disease and regenerative medicine. It will also look for new ways to apply drugs from AZN subsidiary MedImmune.  AstraZeneca will commit up to $20 million behind the project each year for the next five years and expects the center to open by the middle of this year.

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