UPDATED: GlaxoSmithKline to create new vaccines hub, uprooting R&D groups in Cambridge, Philly

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) is setting up a global vaccines hub in Rockville, MD, in the wake of its big asset swap with Novartis ($NVS). And the move will force hundreds of staffers in Cambridge, MA, and Philadelphia to either look for a relocation package or exit the company.

Rumors about GlaxoSmithKline's plans for vaccines have been circulating in the Cambridge area for weeks now. In mid-March GSK told FierceBiotech that no final decisions had been made about its vaccines sites, but mid-day today a spokesperson confirmed that the group's future lies in Rockville.

The pharma giant says it will now have three global vaccines R&D centers, "complementing the company's existing global R&D centres in Rixensart, Belgium, and in Siena, Italy, a site which GSK recently acquired from Novartis in March 2015."

GlaxoSmithKline "will consolidate vaccines R&D activities currently conducted at other GSK sites including in Philadelphia, PA, and Cambridge, MA, into one centralized location," the company noted in a release. "Key late stage development programs, as well as vaccine discovery and new platform technology development, will be led from Rockville."

GSK says that each group accounts for about 150 staffers. A spokesperson for Novartis adds that there were about 300 in their Cambridge facility, "but some have remained with Novartis as they work on flu." 

"In the coming weeks we'll have discussions with employees about the possibility of relocating to Rockville," a spokesperson tells FierceBiotech. "In addition we're still in the process of working through organizational design and business needs; this will help us understand the impact this consolidation will have on employees."

"As the global vaccines leader, GSK is on the cutting edge of vaccine development," noted Luc Debruyne, president of the vaccines unit. "Following the acquisition of Novartis's global vaccines business and in recognition of the vaccines knowledge and expertise in the United States, we are pleased to expand our US presence with the creation of a world-class vaccines R&D centre. This will drive innovation, and enhance our capabilities for new vaccine discoveries that protect the US and public health around the world."

GSK and Novartis agreed last year to swap assets in a multibillion-dollar deal, with Novartis taking on GSK's oncology portfolio and GSK taking the vaccines group. For each, the swap represented a chance to exit an arena that had fallen short on expectations while beefing up work in fields in which they already dominate.

The vaccines move is the latest step in a major overhaul of GSK's U.S. operations. The company has already detailed plans to ax more than 1000 jobs--mostly in R&D--in North Carolina and Philadelphia. The reorganization comes after a slate of new product approvals failed to generate the kind of revenue that had been expected at GSK, forcing a rethink on how it allocates a multibillion-dollar R&D budget.

- here's the release