Exclusive: Pfizer is once again cutting back R&D staff in reorganization

Pfizer's Cambridge research center in Kendall Square--Courtesy of Pfizer

Pfizer is once again trimming its R&D staff. Responding to a query from FierceBiotech regarding word of cutbacks at research facilities in Cambridge, MA, and Collegeville, PA, Pfizer spokesman Dean Mastrojohn sent back a confirmation, later declining to specify just how many jobs are being cut.

In a statement, Pfizer ($PFE) tells FierceBiotech that the company has been cutting back while readjusting its R&D group to better match its pipeline focus. Pfizer says it will also make some new hires for immuno-oncology and gene therapy, two fields where it recently completed major deals.

"Pfizer's Research and Development organization periodically makes adjustments to its staffing mix to respond to shifting priorities in the portfolio and the need for the right pool of talent to deliver on these priorities," the company said in a statement. "As a result of these adjustments, Pfizer will be making select headcount reductions in certain areas of R&D, and reallocating headcount to other growing areas of the organization. As Pfizer recently announced, the company has increased investment in areas that will position us to deliver on some of the most promising scientific advances. Immuno-oncology and gene therapy are two such areas where we plan to make additional hires in the coming months in an effort to ramp up our capabilities. As the R&D ecosystem evolves, Pfizer will continue to ensure that we have the right talent and capabilities focused in the right areas so that we can execute on our strategy of advancing Pfizer's next wave of innovation for the benefit of patients in need."

Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer's president of worldwide R&D

The cutbacks at Pfizer follow one of the biggest restructurings in the industry, as the pharma giant carved billions of dollars out of its research budget. Pfizer made the point two years ago that the reorganization had been completed after it downsized in Connecticut and moved more of its operations into the Cambridge/Boston supercluster. Just last summer Pfizer opened its new, 280,000-square-foot research center in Cambridge's Kendall Square with great fanfare. But even in 2013, R&D chief Mikael Dolsten noted that the company planned to shift its resources into new arenas as the need arose.

"There is a committed strategic funding for each therapeutic area that gives them critical mass, and then we will move resources as we see the most successful projects need them," Dolsten told Reuters.

Pfizer's move, though, also comes as the industry is undergoing a new wave of reorganizations, years after the biggest players set out to reshape the way Big Pharma does drug R&D. These new cutbacks have offered a clear sign that the Great Reformation didn't work as planned, failing to substantially improve real productivity. So Pfizer, which still has a weak pipeline, is left doing more big deals and restructuring once again.

These fresh cuts follow Sanofi's ($SNY) decision a week ago to chop up its cancer R&D group in Boston as it cut back in a field where it's enjoyed little success. Two months ago GlaxoSmithKline--which once heralded small, biotech-like R&D units as its new formula for success--ripped into its research operations in North Carolina and Philadelphia, after its top drug prospects failed in the clinic. AstraZeneca has been engaged in cutbacks for years, with plenty more chops to come--a point that was made again recently as the company struggles to sell its anti-infectives unit in Waltham. 

Since AstraZeneca ($AZN) successfully managed to evade an unwanted megamerger with Pfizer last year, harshly criticizing Pfizer's R&D track record in the process, the pharma giant has been busy doing a range of ambitious deals. The company paid Merck KGaA--which has also recently been trimming R&D staff in Massachusetts--$850 million upfront to partner on a preclinical immuno-oncology program. And Pfizer also struck a broad research pact with Spark Therapeutics ($ONCE) covering gene therapy late last year.

Special Report: Science pays: 2013's 10 best-compensated R&D chiefs in biopharma - Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer