Fierce Biotech analysis: 2023 biopharma layoffs now match 2022's total

Layoffs in the biotech industry for 2023 have matched the total number of companies that cut staff in all of 2022, with 119 biopharmas reporting workforce reductions so far this year, according to an analysis of Fierce Biotech data. 

As of Aug. 18, the Fierce Biotech Layoff Tracker has reported 13 companies for the month, bringing 2023’s grand total to 119—the same as 2022’s entire count. 

2023 Layoffs, per Fierce Biotech's Layoff Tracker
Quarter Companies reporting layoffs
1 56
2 35
3* 28


2022 Layoffs, per Fierce Biotech's Layoff Tracker
Quarter Companies reporting layoffs
1 30
2 30
3 27
4 31

This matches a trajectory set earlier this year when first-quarter layoffs equaled almost half of all workforce reductions that occurred in 2022, according to data from Fierce Biotech’s Layoff Trackers for 2022 and 2023.  

Breaking it down by quarter, 30 companies recorded staff cuts in 2022’s first quarter, followed by 30 again in the second quarter. In comparison, 56 biopharmas slashed teams in 2023’s first quarter, with a drop to 35 companies in the second quarter.

However, this year’s third quarter has seen an uptick, with 28 companies laying off staff in the first month and a half. This already surpasses the total number of company layoffs for last year’s third quarter—27.

While it's hard to calculate the true human impact of the layoffs, we know at least 5,596 employees were laid off from the 36 companies that reported actual numbers of team members impacted so far this year. The remaining companies included in the Fierce Biotech Layoff Tracker either reported layoffs as a percentage of the workforce or didn’t share how many staff members would be laid off.

For many companies, the cuts aren’t their first—or even second—wave in recent memory. For example, DNA medicine-focused Inovio recently announced its third round of layoffs in 13 months, stopping its cervical lesion program to focus on closer-to-market options and putting 58 people out of work. The 30% workforce cut came after a January layoff round impacting 11% of the staff that had remained after a previous 18% cutdown.

Other biotechs listing repeat cuts in 2023 alone are Molecular Templates, Frequency Therapeutics, EQRx and Talaris Therapeutics. EQRx has since effectively shut down completely, selling off to Revolution Medicines earlier this month. 

“Biotech got hit early with this malaise, and so I don't think it can get terribly worse,” Recruiting founder Eric Celidonio had told Fierce Biotech earlier this year. While that seems about right for this year, it also doesn’t seem to be getting much better. 

But it’s not just smaller biotechs hit by incessant layoffs—most recently, Biogen began the process of slashing down its workforce by about 1,000 positions. The culls come after the company shrank its headcount by nearly 900 people last year. Most notices will be handed out by the end of September, a Biogen spokesperson told Fierce Pharma, though they declined to confirm the exact number of employees or the functions involved at the time.  

Big Pharmas Bristol Myers Squibb and Johnson & Johnson are also no strangers to the layoff scene. On Aug. 11, BMS said it would be downsizing by more than 100 people after a second-quarter earnings miss. Earlier in May, the pharma rolled out job cuts for 48 employees in New Jersey, a move that followed more than 250 job cuts in San Diego last fall. As for J&J, the pharma has been plagued by layoffs across several sectors this year, including its Janssen pharmaceutical unit as the company overhauls its infectious diseases and vaccine groups.