Sanofi plots 670 layoffs in France as local tensions brew

Sanofi may be on the up-and-up thanks to its vaccines unit and new anti-inflammatory star Dupixent, but the company still intends to shed more than 600 jobs in its home country over the next couple of years.

The French drugmaker is plotting 670 "voluntary departures" in France between now and 2020, a union representative told Reuters. The layoffs will hit the company’s human resources, IT and finance departments, among others. Sanofi will also outsource 80 IT jobs, though a spokesman cautioned by email that because of the voluntary nature of the cuts and transfers, "the final number of departures may be slightly different at the end of the process."

The news isn't all bad, though. The company is also recruiting 250 people in the country to help it "respond to new demands and to a changing environment with the relevant skills."

"As of today, we do not have them all in-house. For instance, we have an increasing need in data protection, artificial intelligence, analytics, automation-related competencies, as well as marketing or bio-manufacturing," the spokesman added.

Sanofi certainly doesn't intend to neglect France going forward, it says. It plans to invest €700 million over the next two years in the country to upgrade manufacturing sites for vaccines and other biologics.

"With more than 25,000 committed employees, more than 30 sites across the territory and an ongoing investment policy, France retains its unique position in the company’s strategy," the spokesman said.

Still, the layoffs could spark outrage in a country that’s already experiencing some of its fiercest protests in recent history. What started as opposition to fuel tax increases has spilled over into several other issues and general anti-government sentiment.

“We are blindsided as Sanofi makes significant amounts of profits. And at a time of strong social tensions in France, the government is looking the other way,” union representative Thierry Bodin told Reuters.

RELATED: Sanofi sharpens job-cutting ax with 500-plus in France

Sanofi has made several rounds of layoffs in recent years, including in France. In February of 2016, reports listed more than 500 chopped jobs in the country as part of CEO Olivier Brandicourt’s $1.6 billion cost-cutting drive.

The company’s cardio-metabolic sales force in the U.S. has also been hit hard as pricing pressure squeezed Sanofi’s diabetes unit. Earlier this year, the pharma giant said it would eliminate 400 workers, and that announcement followed a December 2016 move to slash 20% of its U.S. diabetes sales force.

RELATED: Sanofi returns to growth as promised, with Dupixent and vaccines leading the turnaround

Luckily for Sanofi, these days, other products are moving in to fill the gap. In the third quarter, sales from new products—led by Dupixent—more than made up for the sales void created by low-cost competitors to Lantus and Renvela, helping Brandicourt usher in a “new growth phase” for Sanofi.

Sanofi isn't the only Big Pharma with job cuts in process or coming soon. Bayer, for one, said last week that it would cut 12,000 jobs as it sells off business units and remakes the company for its post-Monsanto-buyout future.