UPDATED: Novartis R&D axing 500 jobs, boosting Boston area in global realignment

The global R&D shakeup at Novartis ($NVS) will hit U.S. operations as well as hundreds of staffers affected by the planned closure of its respiratory research center in Horsham, U.K. and a separate unit in Vienna.

Novartis' global R&D restructuring includes creating a new respiratory research operation in Cambridge, MA, while it shutters its research unit in Horsham, U.K., the company says in a statement to FierceBiotech. The pharma giant is dropping its work on topical dermatology treatments in Vienna and laying off staffers there as it also closes a biotherapeutics development unit in La Jolla, CA, and relocates its oncology R&D work in Emeryville, CA, to the booming Boston-area biotech hub. A total of about 500 research jobs are being cut while Novartis adds 175 respiratory and cancer jobs to its booming operations in Cambridge, where the company has a staff of 2,400.

FierceBiotech reported on Tuesday that Novartis plans to close its R&D operation in Horsham, U.K., which employs 371 staffers and about 170 consultants. The company has begun "consultations" with its staff, which is a formal prelude to handing out pink slips.

The restructuring appears to be aimed at fine-tuning the pharma giant's R&D strategy and structure while concentrating more of its efforts in key hubs--a popular move in biopharma these days. Novartis, which spends more than $9 billion a year on R&D, is retaining a global research structure with major operations in Cambridge and Basel, Switzerland, along with satellites at East Hanover, NJ; San Diego; Emeryville, CA; Italy; Shanghai and Singapore, according to the Boston Globe.

"Science is evolving so that all drug discovery projects require multidisciplinary input. Geneticists, chemists, pharmacologists, structural biologists and many others often work together on a daily basis," the company says in its statement to FierceBiotech. "Today we are taking action to co-locate scientific resources in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our global research organization."

News of the restructuring has been bubbling up for weeks now. Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News reported three weeks ago that Novartis was axing dozens of vaccine staffers in Emeryville, where it inherited operations in the big buyout of Chiron. Some of those workers appear to have been given an option of relocating to Cambridge, MA. Novartis also told Horsham employees that the decision to close the facility was part of a global restructuring. And given the high level of web traffic FierceBiotech has seen from Novartis facilities this week, the company has been slow to update staffers.

"This is not a pleasant decision for the people affected," Novartis research chief Mark Fishman told the Globe. "But our goal is to continue to make great medicine, and we have to be efficient to do it. This is not an attempt to cut research and development. It's an attempt to reallocate resources in a more efficient way."

Fishman added that the company also plans to continue hiring for Cambridge as it continues to concentrate its efforts in the hub.

- here's the story from the Globe