Unions riled, XenoPort scrambles as Glaxo changes R&D course

GlaxoSmithKline's plans to reengineer its pipeline have provoked an angry response from a group of European labor unions. A trio of unions says that 500 jobs in GlaxoSmithKline's research facility in Verona, Italy will be cut and the facility shuttered as a result of the Big Pharma's dramatic decision to exit the pain and depression fields. And six other research centers around the world will be affected as well, the unions added.

Meanwhile, XenoPort is reportedly trying to better understand where it stands. Glaxo is partnered on XenoPort's lead program, Horizant, for neuropathic pain and restless leg syndrome. XenoPort says the companies are engaged in discussions on the drug's future and "will disclose this development plan at a future date." XenoPort shares slid yesterday on the news from Glaxo. The biotech company faces a February 9 PDUFA date on the drug.

A spokesperson for GlaxoSmithKline, Philip Thomson, tells Bloomberg that only research jobs connected to pain and depression programs would be affected by the company's shift in R&D strategies. Thomson told Reuters that Glaxo's R&D facilities in Verona and in Harlow, England will face the biggest cuts, though they will remain open to pursue other work. The Tonbridge site south of London will close and cutbacks will affect operations at Zagreb Croatia, Poznan in Poland, and Mississauga in Canada. Glaxo CEO Andrew Witty said yesterday that Glaxo would trim spending in both R&D as well as sales and marketing by about $791 million.

Witty has been hammering away at the company's pipeline to make it more productive. He told investors yesterday that between 1998 and 2007, even as the company was able to fashion new blockbusters out of existing therapies, the £3 billion spent on research each year delivered no new molecular entities to the market. But in the past three years Glaxo has delivered 10 of the 75 new molecular entities that have been given U.S. approval. And the Guardian reports that Witty expects to be responsible for another six molecular entity approvals over the next 18 months.

- here's the story from Bloomberg
- here's the Reuters story
- here's the Guardian piece
- and here's the press release from XenoPort