Blow as AstraZeneca plans to close Cheshire R&D base

PHARMACEUTICAL giant AstraZeneca is to axe its longstanding Cheshire research base at Alderley Park and move 1,600 jobs.

In a stock market statement the firm said most of the jobs will go to Cambridge while some will move to a Macclesfield manufacturing facility or overseas sites.

Around 700 jobs will stay at Alderley Park, near Alderley Edge, although these will not be involved in research and development.

It said: “Under the proposals, research and development work will no longer be carried out at Alderley Park…

“At least 700 non-R&D roles are expected to remain at Alderley Park. AstraZeneca is committed to exploring all options to ensure that Alderley Park has a successful future.”

Alderley Park was bought by ICI in 1950 to create a research site for its pharmaceuticals business and to attract world class scientists. It was here that Professor Sir James Black discovered beta blockers, and leading cancer research has been carried out. Last year AstraZeneca secured £5m from the Regional Growth Fund to help create a hub for pharmaceutical innovation and biotech enterprise at the park.

The latest details were revealed in plans to invest in strategic research and development centres in the UK, the US and Sweden. It says this will improve pipeline productivity and establish the company as a global leader in biopharmaceutical innovation.

It will now focus its activities on three strategic centres: Cambridge; Gaithersburg, US; and Mölndal, Sweden. In Cambridge the group plans to invest £330m in a new purpose built facility.

Chief executive Pascal Soriot said: “I recognise that our plans will have a significant impact on many of our people and our stakeholders at the affected sites. We are fully committed to treating all our employees with respect and fairness as we navigate this important period of change.”

From 2013-2016 the firm will relocate a total of 2,500 roles and cut 1,600 jobs in the UK and US. The programme is expected cost £900m in one-off restructuring charges.

Cheshire East Council leader Michael Jones said: “UK Plc should support AstraZeneca through its restructuring and Cheshire East Council will work hard to ensure the future sustainability of their major centres in Alderley Park and Hurdsfield, Macclesfield. 

“We will now need to accelerate our emerging plans for a new Bio Science Park and incubator, as part of drive to foster growth of the life science sector in the region and maximise the wider potential of the site for future development.

“I am very pleased to say that George Osborne, Chancellor and local constituency MP for Tatton, has personally fought very hard to retain a strong position for AZ in the UK and I believe without his direct involvement the announcements today would have meant a complete closure of Alderley Park.

He added: “We must accept, adapt and respond to these types of announcements and look to the future and the potential opportunities it may create.”

The union Unite accused AstraZeneca of creating a skills crisis in the North West by draining the region of highly skilled research and development jobs.

Unite national officer Linda McCulloch said: “After forty years of success and hundreds of millions of pounds of investment, we are at a loss as to why AstraZeneca is now pulling out of Alderley Park. The region desperately needs this highly skilled workforce – they make a huge contribution to the economy and to the community.

“Staff will be shell-shocked by this announcement. Skilled scientific jobs are in short supply and there are many families based around Alderley Park with deep roots in the community. It is going to be a real struggle to relocate families hundreds of miles away to Cambridge.

“Unite will be meeting with the company to demand that AstraZeneca rethinks this decision and looks at alternatives to relocation. The union will be making it a priority to contact local MPs to urge them to intervene.”