Troubled GlaxoSmithKline to shutter R&D facility in France

Late last year GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) set its sights on reorganizing and downsizing its R&D group, laying off hundreds of staffers in North Carolina as it concentrates research in the Philadelphia area and around Stevenage in the U.K. And now it's taking the ax to a satellite lab in France.

Le Monde was the first to report the pharma giant's move, noting that GSK was beginning the process of shuttering the site and terminating 70 staffers--no easy task in France, as Sanofi ($SNY) has learned. GSK tells FierceBiotech that the company will be absorbing their work in its two big hubs while looking for another company to step in and assume control of a facility in France.

"The Les Ulis site in France will not be one of GSK's future R&D satellite sites," the company said in a statement sent to FierceBiotech. "We will search for a pharmaceutical organization to acquire the site and its operations, preserving employment whenever possible. This choice does not question the scientific skills and the quality of the work carried out on the Les Ulis site. It reflects the nature of the work there--flexible chemistry that crosses our organization--which we think can be done at our two global hubs."

Glaxo has had to endure a tough year. A slate of new drug approvals a few years ago failed to offer much added new revenue as it faced the loss of patent protection on Advair. And analysts have been restive about the company's latest move in swapping its portfolio of late-stage cancer therapies for a group of stable but far less exciting vaccines. Company execs say that they've been focused on building reliable revenue in core areas, but its stock has suffered badly on worsening numbers and a shortage of potential home run plays in the pipeline.

Glaxo recruited more than 16,000 patients in a monumental effort to try to prove that Breo Ellipta would improve the mortality rates of patients. But two weeks ago the giant was forced to concede that the effort had failed, leaving GlaxoSmithKline facing the evisceration of its megablockbuster Advair franchise over the next few years with nothing to stop cheap generics from taking over.

Industry blogger Derek Lowe notes that closing French R&D facilities is "no easy task." Former Sanofi CEO Chris Viehbacher gave it a try on a larger scale and ran directly into a backlash from government officials, who managed to persuade Viehbacher to back off from much of the plan.

In the meantime, its R&D organization continues to face an upheaval, with the Novartis exchange leaving GSK to uproot established groups in Philadelphia and Cambridge, MA, as it creates a new vaccines R&D hub in Rockville, MD.

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