AstraZeneca grows Canadian snowshoe print with 500 new jobs and rare disease hub

AstraZeneca is bucking the biopharma layoff trend, instead expanding its Canadian footprint with the creation of 500 new jobs and a new rare disease research hub.

The new roles, described as “scientific and high-tech jobs” will be in the Greater Toronto area, many at AstraZeneca's R&D Hub in Mississauga, Ontario, according to a Feb. 27 release. The center currently runs more than 120 global clinical studies and houses most of AstraZeneca Canada’s employees, of which there are about 1,200 total.

The Big Pharma is also forming a new research hub through Alexion, its rare disease arm bought with a $39 billion acquisition in 2021. 

A network of universities, hospitals and research centers, alongside a diverse scientific talent pool in the area drove the new investment, according to AstraZeneca. The Big Pharma also cited a new government life sciences strategy and its commitment to growing biomanufacturing as a reason for the new jobs and center.

"To deliver better healthcare, it's important to invest in our public, universal system—and it's also important to continue rebuilding our biomanufacturing capacity and investing in research and development," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in the release. "That's exactly why we're here today: we're positioning Canada as a world leader in the sector, delivering better health outcomes for Canadians, and creating good jobs now and into the future."

The large number of new jobs is somewhat of an industry anomaly right now, as several Big Pharmas have been joining the biopharma layoff wave. According to Fierce Biotech’s Layoff Tracker, at least 22 biotechs or pharmas have cut staff just this month alone, with names like Johnson & Johnson, Bayer, Eisai and Pfizer in the mix.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca's new rare disease center comes as Big Pharma rival Pfizer cuts several rare disease assets from its pipeline, signaling a more restrained approach in the space.