GlaxoSmithKline has confirmed reports that it plans to cut 350 R&D jobs, as part of its restructuring programme which should garner annual savings of up to £700 million by 2010.

The firm issued a statement saying that these changes are part of its longer-term strategy “to ensure we invest in key areas of future growth and evolve our business to compete effectively in what is a rapidly changing and challenging environment for pharmaceutical companies”. To achieve this, “we continue to reshape our R&D operations to take advantage of new scientific opportunities” and improve GSK’s productivity," the company added.

GSK went onto say that "regrettably some job reductions are necessary and we will do everything we can to support those employees who are affected." The company gave no specifics as to where the job cuts, which represent 2% of its 17,000 worldwide R&D staff, would be made but the sites likely to be affected are Research Triangle Park, Upper Providence and Upper Merion in the USA, Harlow in the UK and Verona in Italy.

The news of the cuts comes follows the disclosure earlier this week, and reported by the Financial Times, that GSK is to split its drug development teams into smaller, more focused groups paid by results. The newspaper reported that Patrick Vallance, head of drug discovery, told a conference in London that GSK would increasingly try to become "more biotech-like" and “reward people based on successful value creation", with ‘disincentives’ against destroying value.

The move would be a further development of GSK’s semi-autonomous Centres of Excellence in Drug Discovery, and more recently, it set up a similar structure to fund research outside the company.

Promising Synflorix data
Staying with research and GSK has presented promising late-stage data on its experimental paediatric vaccine Synflorix.

The Phase III data, which was presented at the International Symposium on Pneumococci and Pneumococcal Diseases in Reykjavik, Iceland, indicate that Synflorix should offer protection to children against most major strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae, the bacteria responsible for life-threatening invasive diseases such as meningitis and sepsis.

GSK noted that Synflorix provides broader coverage compared to other paediatric jabs as it includes three additional pneumococcal strains – 1, 5 and 7F – that are not currently vaccine preventable. These strains “are an increasingly prominent cause of serious disease in Europe”, where the firm filed for regulatory review in January.