About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
Not Voodoo

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
A New Merck, Reviewed
Liberal Arts Chemistry
Electron Pusher
All Things Metathesis
C&E News Blogs
Chemiotics II
Chemical Space
Noel O'Blog
In Vivo Blog
Terra Sigilatta
BBSRC/Douglas Kell
Realizations in Biostatistics
ChemSpider Blog
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Symyx Blog
Sceptical Chymist
Lamentations on Chemistry
Computational Organic Chemistry
Mining Drugs
Henry Rzepa

Science Blogs and News:
Bad Science
The Loom
Uncertain Principles
Fierce Biotech
Blogs for Industry
Omics! Omics!
Young Female Scientist
Notional Slurry
Nobel Intent
SciTech Daily
Science Blog
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net

Medical Blogs
DB's Medical Rants
Science-Based Medicine
Respectful Insolence
Diabetes Mine

Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem

Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus

Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

« The NIH's New Drug Discovery Center: Heading Into the Swamp? | Main | Pfizer Part Two: Cuts at Groton »

February 1, 2011

Bad News: Pfizer Closes Site in Sandwich

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Just today, Pfizer's announced that they're closing the longtime research site in Sandwich, Kent. 2,400 people work there, and although the company says that perhaps several hundred may find positions elsewhere, this is a major blow to drug discovery operations in the UK. No, we're not off to a good start in 2011 at all. . .

Comments (71) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets


1. Petros on February 1, 2011 9:44 AM writes...

The chances of several hundred finding employment elsehwere in the industry is remote, as is the site for London let alone anywhere where there is a R&D site.

This has been rumoured for over a year and the labs contain around 50 chemists employed by a contract chemistry service provider (not Pfizer).

This closure will leave Eli Lilly as the only US based major with any significant R&D effort in the UK,

So much for the site's track record

Permalink to Comment

2. A Nonny Mouse on February 1, 2011 10:02 AM writes...

Also heard that the 2 year old development labs are being closed at S-A in Bridgewater. All work will be transferred to France (typical.....) where they are still building a duplicate facility- which is a year behind schedule.

Also, seems there are lots of strikes at S-A in France due to job cuts. Serves them right!

Permalink to Comment

3. Nick K on February 1, 2011 10:14 AM writes...

Calamitous news for Pharma R and D in the UK and the East Kent economy. What on Earth are they going to do with that huge site?

Permalink to Comment

4. Mark on February 1, 2011 10:20 AM writes...

Wow! I had an offer out there in 2007, after they closed the Ann Arbor site. They had already started eliminating a lot of jobs there.

What a shame, there are some really high quality scientists out there.


Permalink to Comment

5. Ed on February 1, 2011 10:24 AM writes...

This really is the icing on the cake for UK Pharma - it really has been the worst two years that you could imagine.

Permalink to Comment

6. some_reward on February 1, 2011 10:28 AM writes...

For the sake of interest - what products have come out of Groton recently??

Permalink to Comment

7. Pfizered on February 1, 2011 10:29 AM writes...

I also heard CNS in Groton is gone....

Permalink to Comment

8. Anonymous on February 1, 2011 10:30 AM writes...

Stock up 4%

Permalink to Comment

9. some_reawrd on February 1, 2011 10:32 AM writes...

Any updates on the reports of 1100 jobs going at groton?

Permalink to Comment

10. A Nonny Mouse on February 1, 2011 10:34 AM writes...

Don't know where my original post went.

Here's Annette's announcement

Permalink to Comment

11. David Formerly Known as a Chemist on February 1, 2011 10:35 AM writes...

More sad news from Pfizerland, but not unexpected. I still predict more cuts to come, Pfizer is one huge, bloated, unproductive company. Big pharma must be one of the most unstable places to be employed these days.

Permalink to Comment

12. BFS on February 1, 2011 11:02 AM writes...

Very sad news indeed. Will be losing many old friends.

Permalink to Comment

13. Hap on February 1, 2011 11:09 AM writes...

How do they decide what to cut? I assume there has to be a decision process, but how does it determine and account for the products a site helps generate? Knowing how much something costs is helpful, but if you can't get that production for cheaper, then cutting it is counterproductive. If you don't think that the people or cultures that do research are relevant to its future production, then cutting R+D makes sense, but then you ought to have an idea of what might work better.

Permalink to Comment

14. ExPfizerite on February 1, 2011 11:19 AM writes...

Very bad news indeed, I spent four largely happy years there in the 90s! A lot of good people there who did good stuff!
It's hard to over-do the doom-and-gloom at the moment.
Whether reliable or not, there are rumors on the cafepharma blog site about GSK entering another round of significant cuts. Anyone got anything more substantial on that? At this rate pharma is going the way of the video store!

Permalink to Comment

15. Nick K on February 1, 2011 11:22 AM writes...

Interestingly there's no mention yet of the closure on the Pfizer website. Perhaps a residual sense of shame on the part of senior management at kicking their loyal, productive employees in the teeth?

Permalink to Comment

16. quintus on February 1, 2011 11:22 AM writes...

My heart goes out to those at the Sandwich site. It is a lovely place to live and work. I was there for some months many years ago.
I hope the Pfizer high managers get a Sandwich come back and bite them in the ass.
What a bunch of assholes (the Pfizer managers)

Permalink to Comment

17. stuff on February 1, 2011 11:24 AM writes...

@15 Nick K
There is one line in the results press release and here in UK there has been a 1-page statement.

Permalink to Comment

18. Chemjobber on February 1, 2011 11:26 AM writes...

Argh. This sucks.

@Nick K: Check their press releases, it's buried in the 2/1/11 financial report.

Permalink to Comment

19. stuff on February 1, 2011 11:27 AM writes...

@15 Nick K
There is one line in the results press release and here in UK there has been a 1-page statement.

Permalink to Comment

20. nolongerbigpharma on February 1, 2011 11:29 AM writes...

So GSK exited Pain kept Respiratory, Pfizer does the opposite. Rat smelling anyone?

Permalink to Comment

21. Nick K on February 1, 2011 11:38 AM writes...

#23 and #25: I stand corrected. Nevertheless, I feel that Pfizer are being remarkably coy about this closure.

Permalink to Comment

22. quintus on February 1, 2011 11:38 AM writes...

It seems to me that "Big Pharma" requires more control, perhaps from government?.
They should be made to pay vast sums for the site closures and redundancies and resulting unemployment in the surrounding areas.
All this just to keep the share holders happy and gain max profits.
In big pharma you are just a resource to be discarded as required. As long as the managers get their LARGE boni everything is ok, screw the workers, Who are they?

Permalink to Comment

23. My 2 Cents on February 1, 2011 11:40 AM writes...

It is an awful time for Pharma R&D. But IMHO, Pharma R&D will come back some where down the road when all the sourcing couldn't produce any blockbusters. Pharma R&D is different from steel-making. People get sick and reformulating ibuprofen is not the solution.

Permalink to Comment

24. Annette Bak on February 1, 2011 11:40 AM writes...

I would like to add one point though it is controversial.

One positive for the sandwich closure is that some of pfizers low POS programs will be discontinued which did need to be accomplished.

Permalink to Comment

25. Ian S on February 1, 2011 11:53 AM writes...

Pfizer pulling out of research? Turning into a late-stage development company?

Permalink to Comment

26. some_reward on February 1, 2011 12:06 PM writes...

Pharma turning into 'development houses' is the current end-game.

Where they get the develpoment candidates appear from in the future is the real question

Permalink to Comment

27. Rock on February 1, 2011 12:14 PM writes...

Also, all research will be transferred out of Groton to Cambridge. Groton will become a 'support center for R&D". 1100 jobs gone. Only synthetic chemists will stay.

Permalink to Comment

28. @Rock on February 1, 2011 12:26 PM writes...

You don't count "synthetic chemists" as researchers?

Permalink to Comment

29. CR on February 1, 2011 12:49 PM writes...

#22, quintos said...
"It seems to me that "Big Pharma" requires more control, perhaps from government?.
They should be made to pay vast sums for the site closures and redundancies and resulting unemployment in the surrounding areas."

Huh? So you want the government to tell companies when and where they can get rid of employees? Doesn't sound like something the government should be involved in. Nothing like big government getting even bigger.

Permalink to Comment

30. Ian S on February 1, 2011 12:51 PM writes...


As all McDonalds employess come CEO's and shareholders know, IND candidates come out of thin air!

Permalink to Comment

31. Rock on February 1, 2011 12:54 PM writes...

Of course, bad choice of words. What I meant was therapeutic area research. i.e. all biologists will be moved out.

Permalink to Comment

32. Wagonwheel on February 1, 2011 12:59 PM writes...

wow, another blow.

@some_reward and @Ian S, future candidates will come from Indian and Chinese government funded pre-clinical research and CRO's. Once the T-bills start to go downhill even more surplus cash will go to build new research institutes and provide clinical candidates at rates that western countries can't compete...

Permalink to Comment

33. Quintus on February 1, 2011 1:04 PM writes...

@29 Who pays for the social Berkeley these poor people must receive? The rest of society. I don't mind chipping in but I think big pharma should do more to avoid these sort of situations, by thinking properly.

Permalink to Comment

34. Quintus on February 1, 2011 1:08 PM writes...

@29 Who pays for the social Benefits these poor people must receive? The rest of society. I don't mind chipping in but I think big pharma should do more to avoid these sort of situations, by thinking properly. And they should contribute more to the social system by providing more than just a lump sum to the persons who will lose their income and eventually become a burden for the state.

Permalink to Comment

35. Ian S on February 1, 2011 1:09 PM writes...

@ Wagonwheel

I have my serious doubts about that, but only time will tell.

Permalink to Comment

36. wwjd on February 1, 2011 1:16 PM writes...

From the Pfizer press release: "...shift of selected resources from Groton, CT to Cambridge, MA..." & "...the Company is planning to enhance its presence in Cambridge, MA..." It looks like the future of pharma is in the Boston area.

Permalink to Comment

37. Anonymous on February 1, 2011 1:18 PM writes...

1100 more cut at Groton.

Permalink to Comment

38. Anonymous on February 1, 2011 2:20 PM writes...

Only a matter of time now for AZ Alderley Edge and GSK Stevenage. The age of the super-sized R&D sites in the UK is well and truly over.

Permalink to Comment

39. BFS on February 1, 2011 2:23 PM writes...

Here's a local article with more detail.

Permalink to Comment

40. GreedyCynicalSelfInterested on February 1, 2011 2:25 PM writes...

These people can come to the US and work in all the green jobs that the Obama administration promises. (Pulling recyclable trash off a moving conveyor belt lest those valuable molecules wind up in the landfill! Try outsourcing that! At least chemists will have a competitive advantage in that they are quite accustomed to foul smells.)


Permalink to Comment

41. Anonymous on February 1, 2011 2:29 PM writes...

Never mind....the share price has gone up.

Permalink to Comment

42. barry on February 1, 2011 2:45 PM writes...

Do we now have enough data to conclude that ever-bigger mega corporations are not better for Drug Discovery?

Permalink to Comment

43. Chem Jobber on February 1, 2011 3:09 PM writes...

So how much money has Pfizer paid to moving companies over the years? It's got to be huge.

Permalink to Comment

44. Ed on February 1, 2011 3:23 PM writes...

This is a truly awful day for pharmaceutical R&D in the UK. As far as I can make out, only GSK and AZ have major presence in this country any more, and lets face it who knows how long AZ will last much longer?

In the UK as soon as a car manufacturer announces the closure of a car plant, all the politicians go running up to the site trying to cut deals with the company in an attempt to keep the site open, the UK press is full of details of the cuts and there is general public uproar. The difference in attitude demonstrated to the continued running down of UK pharma couldn't be further from this - lets not forget that AZ announced the closure of their 2nd biggest site in the Midlands last year. Its pretty much as if no-one really gives a damn. Soon the UK won't have any highly skilled jobs and everyone will be working for Tesco. Shame on this and previous governments for letting this happen.

Permalink to Comment

45. The Blue Maharaja on February 1, 2011 3:36 PM writes...

No doubt about it, this is Year Zero for Big Pharma R&D.

Permalink to Comment

46. Nick K on February 1, 2011 4:33 PM writes...

#44 Ed: There's absolutely nothing central government can do to stop the closures. In any case, even in the auto sector government intervention rarely works. Remember MG Rover?

Permalink to Comment

47. dov on February 1, 2011 4:47 PM writes...

I cant imagine the government truly wants massive job losses in their own country. MG rover was good intentions from the government being exploited by modern businessmen that dont want to be involved in the difficult stuff of running a company.

But what government can control:

1) cost of living/currency arbitrage
2) the ability to offshore jobs while still being able to import your product from the low cost economy with no penalty.

Is being hung out to dry by free trade libertarianism rubbish that has time and time again benefited the few.

Nobody cared when it was working class jobs. Now its high-tech. What exactly are out western economies going to have left?

You might enjoy your massive bonuses now but when unemployment hits >30% i doubt this country will be a very nice place to live - and having cash won't make it any nicer.

Permalink to Comment

48. Hap on February 1, 2011 4:58 PM writes...

Yeah, but if you've got cash, you can find yourself a nice compound somewhere and buy enough security to keep yourself safe from everyone else. If you looted well enough, then, no worries, and if you didn't, well, sucks to be you.

I don't think that there's either any long-term thinking in the layoffs or any intention by the implementors of being around when the consequences hit.

Permalink to Comment

49. petros on February 1, 2011 5:08 PM writes...

And Pfizer is currently being reported as having evaded/avoided taxes in several European countries!

Permalink to Comment

50. dov on February 1, 2011 5:44 PM writes...

Yeah good luck with the compound.

See egypt

Permalink to Comment

51. exhibit A on February 1, 2011 5:54 PM writes...

I have sympathy for the Pfizer employees but maybe this is good news for CRO scientists who work for cheaper in the Sandwich building

Permalink to Comment

52. Hap on February 1, 2011 6:03 PM writes...

Yeah, but dictators are easy to find - they want to be visibly in power, and thus obvious. When things fail, well, they can usually escape with the lives and a lot of cash if they're someplace the media pays attention to. Rich people who don't want to be found...not so much. (If they really looted well, they can own the gov't wherever they go, so knocking them out requires a much larger effort than just hiring a few Chechnian goons with AK's and going to work.)

Permalink to Comment

53. Julien on February 1, 2011 6:29 PM writes...

So once all costs have been cut to nil, is the profitability going to infinity ?

Permalink to Comment

54. Ian S on February 1, 2011 6:46 PM writes...

How is it good news for those contract employees in Sandwich? As contract employees they will get nowt. No redundancy, just clear your desk. Most will be on 4 weeks notice, some less.

Permalink to Comment

55. ExUKPharma on February 1, 2011 7:10 PM writes...

I really don't know what the exectives in Big Pharma are thinking. They blow hundreds of millions of dollars on external deals. Many of which have their dillegence done by non-scientists and end up being turkeys. Or some commercial moron ends up making a bad call and they get stumped with multi-billion legal bills to make the shame go away. R&D is cheap these days in some big pharma compared to the cash blown on in-licensing sub-standard molecules and legal fees. Get rid of the non-scientist business folks that choke up the executive grades and maybe, just maybe we might discover something useful to patients and keep the internal science jobs. Also can anyone out there that makes these decisions please enlighten us why when things go bad, its the do-ers that get the chop and you keep the managers that got you in that mess in the first place???

Permalink to Comment

56. nona on February 1, 2011 8:38 PM writes...

PFE up 5.5% today.

Permalink to Comment

57. fred on February 1, 2011 9:46 PM writes...

The kicker: PFE wants to do a buy-back, to raise shareholder value.

TRANSLATION: "Meet the new boss; same as the old boss". Get the parachute. Keep the shareholders deluded. Get out. Fcuk (clothing brand) the patients waiting for new drugs.

Permalink to Comment

58. bbooooooya on February 1, 2011 10:13 PM writes...

"I have sympathy for the Pfizer employees but maybe this is good news for CRO scientists who work for cheaper in the Sandwich building"

Good thinking! A race to the botom salary-wise. Good luck competing with folks in the PRC and India accustomed to living on much much less that the average Brit (or American) could even dream.

Will work for a while, though, until we've worked our way so far down the value chain that no one can afford the new super drugs big pharma seems so incapable of producing.

Permalink to Comment

59. Anonymous on February 1, 2011 10:46 PM writes...

Wasn't HTS consolidated in Sandwich a couple of years back?

Permalink to Comment

60. GreedyCynicalSelfInterested on February 1, 2011 10:59 PM writes...

The days when Westerners enjoyed a higher standard of living than people in China and India are over. Once the government devalues the currency, you will be living on what the average folks in the PRC and India make. This process is happening before your very eyes and will continue for the forseeable future.

Get to know people and see which of your friends or relatives you can move in with when you lose your house or can no longer afford an apartment on your own.

Permalink to Comment

61. Rock on February 1, 2011 11:37 PM writes...

@59 Anon
Yes but they have been transferring HTS technology to Wuxi over the past few years. Well planned out.

Permalink to Comment

62. processchemist on February 2, 2011 2:39 AM writes...


Heard something like this five years ago. Some major advances in the neurodegenerative field were due by the GSK Shangai CEDD for april 2010. We're still waiting. Obvioulsy 5 years is a short time. We should observe a 10 years trend, or maybe a 25 years one.
But new good candidates are needed now.

Permalink to Comment

63. genwizz on February 2, 2011 5:02 AM writes...

GSK again in the frame next
Big anouncement due v soon for Stevenage & ware sites ,they have already started splitting the stev site by stealth into a multi user science park

Permalink to Comment

64. An on February 2, 2011 2:30 PM writes...

@61: not only WuXi, a couple of other CROs have been trained in the whole process (target synthesis, monomers, templates, lib design & synthesis, bio tests, chemical storage, etc) and as far as I know neither chemists nor biologists are needed anymore (to the eyes of the upper management).

Permalink to Comment

65. ex-PFEer on February 2, 2011 11:13 PM writes...

@26 Pharma turning into 'development houses' is the current end-game.

Unfortunately for Pfizer, all of the experienced development colleagues have left. There is no one at the top of the organization who really understands how to get an NME approved. They're all very good at filing new indications for approved drugs, but are completely out of their depth when it comes to the rigor needed for initial approvals. Development at PFE is now run by marketers with little or no experience with pivotal clinical development and like every area of the business (including marketing), pivotal clinical development is incredibly difficult. PFE may believe the path forward is as a development company but it is doomed to fail with the current leadership.

Sad day for those in Sandwich and in Groton. Some very good friends are suffering terribly right now and my heart goes out to them.

Permalink to Comment

66. Bruce on February 3, 2011 6:42 AM writes...

The big pharm business model is pretty much broken. New molecules cost too much to bring to market and the patent life is too short. We lose out by not developing possible effective drugs.

Permalink to Comment

67. knute on February 3, 2011 1:33 PM writes...

Actually this is good news for Pfizer. The Sandwich group has been driving them over the cliff for the past decade. I have a lot of confidence in Reid now, apparently he knew this and made the move.

Permalink to Comment

68. Dorf on February 5, 2011 9:36 PM writes...

Any more details on what is happening at Groton and Cambridge? What about Centers of Excellence?

Permalink to Comment

69. NoDrugsNoJobs on February 6, 2011 4:35 PM writes...

Bruce #66 - you also hit it on the head, to the point and oh so true. The effective patent life is getting shorter because the clinical trials get longer. Hatch Waxman provisions provide for some relief but not enough and those guidelines were set in 1984, long before the years of 10-15 year standard drug development time. Add in the increasing greed and aggression of state's attorneys to sue drug companies for various alleged offenses resulting in the loss of billions of dollars, the increased pressure on manufacturers to provide lower prices to insurers and governments, the tort law system in the US which means that every new drug on the market in the US will be subjected to a minimum of 100's of meritless law suits that will still need to be defended at cost to the drug company, the FDA's increasing unwillingness to approve new drugs, increased regulation across any and all fronts imaginable and there you have it, the clear and unstoppable components of the unravelling of what was once one of the United State's signature industries. I can only chuckle to myself as I read many posts from fellow travelers here who have to such a great extent succumbed to the idea that the drug industry only need blame its own CEOs as if it is the CEOs at every drug company got together and decided to act counter to the industries own needs in order to put us in this predicament we are now. People don't understand how the game that we play is legislatively rigged - from patent laws, to regulatory laws, to health care laws, the legislative environment we live and work in ultimately will determine whether the work we do will continue or not. You can say every coach at every team is shitty and for some reason have been getting shittier only over the last 20 or so years or you can look at how the game rules themselves have evolved. If you think that small molecule research is important and that it will be an important component going forward on such challenging targets as Alzheimer's, cancer, schizophrenia, etc (I think it will be) then you need to consider the basic framework of costs and risks in such research. The whole situation could be most easily fixed by allowing drug companies a longer time to recoup spending on their investment into small molecule research. Its that simple. Patent laws are set by the legislature (congress) and signed by the president. The current patent laws that we operate under were not set down by God, they are not perfect and they should be adjusted to achieve what goals society deems to be those most important.

Permalink to Comment

70. KuntaKinte on February 6, 2011 4:44 PM writes...

This is bad news for the industry. It's interesting to see some comments say it was going to happen sooner or later and how Pfizer Sandwich was dragging down the rest of the company. Not being an insider, can someone elaborate?
I'm no expert but a site that has produced blockbusters like Norvasc, Viagra and fluconazole can't be that bad!?

Permalink to Comment

71. Paul Davis on February 18, 2011 2:07 PM writes...

#44 "Soon the UK won't have any highly skilled jobs and everyone will be working for Tesco" - thats the thing with big companies like tesco they employ so few people. its time we revived local economies instead of all living in clone towns with no jobs

Permalink to Comment


Remember Me?


Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

The Last Post
The GSK Layoffs Continue, By Proxy
The Move is Nigh
Another Alzheimer's IPO
Cutbacks at C&E News
Sanofi Pays to Get Back Into Oncology
An Irresponsible Statement About Curing Cancer
Oliver Sacks on Turning Back to Chemistry