Sanofi cuts staff in Belgium as early-stage research dwindles

Sanofi’s global restructuring and downsizing is now fully underway, with layoffs stretching to the company’s Belgian offices.

Belgian newspaper De Tijd reports that 67 employees have been laid off at a site in Ghent, and 32 jobs are on the chopping block at Sanofi’s Belgium HQ in Diegem. A spokesperson for the company confirmed the figures are correct. 

"Based on the re-prioritization of our pipeline we will shift some of our investments in early research programs to clinical development programmes and some early-stage research activities in Ghent including in oncology will be discontinued," the spokesperson said. They added that Ghent "remains a strategic site for Sanofi," after the 3.9 billion euro acquisition of Ablynx back in 2018. 

Then-CEO Olivier Brandicourt said in a release at the time that the purchase teed up growth in treating “rare blood disorders.” 

“We are also pleased to reaffirm our commitment to Belgium, where we have invested significantly over the years in our state-of-the-art biologics manufacturing facility in Geel,” Brandicourt wrote. “We intend to maintain and support the Ablynx science center in Ghent." Brandicourt was replaced by current CEO Paul Hudson in September 2019. 

Belgian staffers are the latest to be impacted by Sanofi’s global restructuring, which was first hinted at by leadership at the tail end of 2023 during Sanofi’s third-quarter earnings call. Executives described plans to increase R&D spending by doubling down on clinical-stage immunology candidates while diverting resources away from other parts of the pipeline.

Employees were told at the beginning of this month that the restructuring was going into effect. An April 4 email from R&D chief Houman Ashrafian, Ph.D., described a “full pipeline reprioritization” was in effect, and that the workforce would be downsized as a result. Sanofi’s goal, Ashrafian wrote, is to be “an immunoscience powerhouse.” 

Now, the divestments are coming into clearer view. Sanofi has axed, divested or pulled back from at least three oncology deals with Amunix, Kiadis and IGM Biosciences, respectively. In October 2023, executives specifically listed oncology as a therapeutic area where resources could be diverted. The company also laid off employees at a U.K. site acquired from Kymab and has trimmed its US commercial vaccine operations. 

In his email to staff, Ashrafian said there would be “fewer projects in research to fund the required increase in investment in our development portfolio.”