GlaxoSmithKline sharpens ax for 650 job cuts—450 in sales—to channel money toward new launches, R&D

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GlaxoSmithKline plans to eliminate about 100 positions at its U.S. headquarters in Philadelphia. (Eric Sagonowsky)

After a business review unveiled in July—and ahead of new challenges—GlaxoSmithKline is sharpening its jobs ax to cut 650 across its U.S. business. On the block are 450 field sales positions, plus another 100 each at its U.S. headquarters in Philadelphia and at a commercial hub in North Carolina.  

With the changes, GSK aims to “improve the competitiveness and efficiency" of its cost base, company spokeswoman Mary Anne Rhyne said in a statement

“In the US, we are facing several external and internal drivers of change as we look at our Pharma business over the next several years,” she said. “Although we are growing, our aim is to deliver competitive growth and at the same time invest in our R&D ambition for the future.” 

Count Advair generics among those drivers. Glaxo has been bracing for competition to its blockbuster respiratory drug for several years, but so far generics have failed to score FDA approval. That could change soon, though; Mylan has said it can win a nod by mid-October. The GSK drug routinely pulls in megablockbuster sales, even as payer discounts and rebates have eroded those numbers significantly over the past several years. The drug brought in £3.13 billion last year worldwide, down from £5.27 billion in 2013.

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GSK said in April it expects Advair's U.S. sales to drop 30% this year even without generics, to about $1.57 billion from $2.2 billion last year. In July, the company said a generics launch by October would shave 3 percentage points off the company's earnings per share growth for the year.

GSK now plans to reduce its sales force in asthma, “reflecting our strategy to focus on COPD, where we feel we have the biggest opportunity for growth." But even with the job cuts, GSK will maintain or boost its field sales teams for its closed triple therapy COPD inhaler Trelegy, severe eosinophilic asthma injection Nucala and its new shingles vaccine Shingrix, Rhyne said.

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RELATED: FDA strikes down Mylan's generic Advair—again—citing 'minor' issues 

With its savings, GSK plans to spend to support new launches and reinvest into R&D. Launched last year, Shingrix has surpassed early commercial expectations and carries a sales target of between £600 million and £650 million this year. Demand has been so high for the new shingles vaccine that GSK had to delay orders and implement order limits to maintain its supply. Trelegy, also approved last year, carries blockbuster sales potential, analysts figure.

Aside from Shingrix shortages, GSK has previously reported shortages of meningitis B vaccine Bexsero, plus hep A and B shots; in response, the company has pledged to invest in vaccine manufacturing to continue to support growth for the business. In the company’s statement, Rhyne highlighted vaccines and oncology as growth drivers.  

RELATED: GlaxoSmithKline's Shingrix beats expectations again in Q2 despite supply constraint 

“We remain committed to the US and continue to see it as a positive environment for future investments as we develop and deliver our next generation of innovative Oncology medicines and build capacity for our global vaccines business,” she said. 

In all, GSK employs about 15,000 people in the U.S. at nine manufacturing sites and two commercial hubs in North Carolina and Philadelphia. The company also operates a consumer healthcare site in New Jersey and two R&D centers in Pennsylvania and Maryland.