UPDATED: Allergan aims ax at R&D, eliminating 1,500 jobs in bitter takeover fight

Struggling to escape Valeant's ($VRX) unwanted $53 billion takeover attempt, Allergan came up with plans to chop back its budget--axing 1,500 workers and eliminating another 250 vacant positions. Allergan's release Monday morning is light on details, but the company clearly plans to cut back on early discovery work in what had been a rapidly growing R&D division.

Altogether, Allergan ($AGN) says its cost-cutting regimen--which will eliminate 13% of its workforce--will reduce its 2015 budget by $475 million. Reductions in spending will hit across the board, affecting its commercial organization, general and administrative functions, manufacturing and research and development. The emphasis at the company now is preserving "customer-facing" staff as well as all the key development programs now in the pipeline.

But there was a clear hint of where the ax will fall. The company noted that while it will continue all programs in the clinic, "any reductions in discovery programs will not impact approvals within the strategic plan period."

Allergan CEO David Pyott

Allergan execs had earlier promised some deep cuts as they continue to resist the increasingly bitter charges being leveled against the company and its executive staff by Valeant and its allies. But the company just lost a key ally. The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that one of its biggest investors, Capital Research & Management, sold its stake in the company after meeting with CEO David Pyott.

In a call with analysts Monday morning Pyott emphasized that the company is in the hunt for new acquisitions, both large and small. He steered clear of mentioning any possible buyout targets, but offered that the perfect profile would be a "specialist in nature" with a good growth profile, good margins and a new therapeutic "pillar" that they could use to develop new products and grow sales more.

Bill Ackman and Valeant have been working to scrape together a 25% stake in the company, which they say will trigger a shareholders' meeting to vote on its slate of proposed directors.

Just a few weeks ago Allergan was forced to acknowledge that the FDA had rejected--for the third time--migraine drug Semprana. Two of those rejections came after Pyott bought the therapy. Allergan said today that the next FDA action on Semprana is expected by the end of the second quarter in 2015.

R&D cutbacks were definitely not on Pyott's agenda when he began the year. In an interview with FierceBiotech at the J.P. Morgan conference in January, Pyott bullishly outlined plans to beef up its growing R&D wing, which at that time had a staff of about 2,500. Pyott outlined plans to add hundreds more investigators as it looked to boost its total research allocation from $1 billion to $1.5 billion over the next 5 years. And a confident Pyott added that he was ready and willing to spend billions more to cover the cost of new acquisitions and pacts aimed at expanding the company's core research focuses--while pondering the addition of a new drug category to the list of 5 core focuses if the opportunity looks right.

Allergan beat out Street estimates for Q2 and raised its earnings estimates for the next two years, a move that analysts say could make Valeant pay more than $53 billion if it plans to complete the acquisition.

"The company raised its guidance to a range of $8.20-$8.40 in 2015 and ~$10 in 2016, versus our $6.70 and $8.23 and consensus of $6.90 and $8.18, respectively," noted Sterne Agee analyst Shibani Malhotra this morning. "Applying an 18x – 20x multiple to 2016 guidance gives a standalone value of $180-$200 per share. Today's announcement by Allergan makes it more difficult for Valeant (VRX, $121.97, NR) to demonstrate how a merger can add incremental value and AGN shareholders may now require Valeant to pay a greater premium for Allergan, we believe."

- here's the release