AstraZeneca targets U.S. ops for 400 job cuts

Another Big Pharma company is taking the scalpel to its U.S. operations. AstraZeneca ($AZN) says it will cut 400 jobs from its commercial business in the U.S., with most of the cuts centered on its Wilmington, DE, headquarters. It's just the latest in a series of AstraZeneca layoffs over the last several years, but at least this time the losses are numbered in the hundreds, rather than thousands.

Of the total, 70 will be handled through existing vacancies, the company announced. The remaining 330 will hit the Wilmington headquarters, along with some "field-based" positions. AstraZeneca is giving employees the chance to volunteer for one of the slots. "All decisions will be finalized by early December," the company said in a statement.

AstraZeneca cited pricing pressures and generic competition in explaining the cutbacks. Like the rest of Big Pharma, AstraZeneca has been suffering price cuts and discounts as cost-conscious government health programs put the squeeze on spending. Meanwhile, the company faces rivals to its blockbuster antipsychotic drug Seroquel beginning early next year--although the long-acting XR version looks as if it'll keep its exclusivity for a few more years. Crestor, its top seller, will have to deal with low-cost copies of Pfizer's leading cholesterol drug Lipitor in November.

"This will be very difficult for our entire organization, particularly the people who are directly impacted," explained the company's North American President and CEO Rich Fante in a statement. "However, these changes are necessary to build a leaner, more efficient organization." The latest layoffs follow the 7,600 announced in 2007, 1,400 announced in 2008, another 7,000-plus announced in 2009 and at least 1,800 announced in 2010. About 550 of last year's job cuts hit Wilmington's R&D operations.

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