Anglo-Indian contract research organisation (CRO) Veeda Clinical Research has laid off the bulk of its staff in the UK as global recession and more tentative outsourcing of early-phase trials take their toll on the company’s operation in Derriford, Plymouth.

The UK business is making 32 out of 47 employees redundant, although some of these are part-timers. Veeda Clinical is maintaining a core presence at the Derriford site and says the redundancies are a “pragmatic but hopefully short-term response” to a “cumulative slowdown” in contracts for Phase I trials.

Phase I is the main focus of the UK operation and Veeda Clinical’s “bread and butter”, the company noted. The recession has hit early-phase development services particularly hard as pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies reprioritise their R&D pipelines.

Added to that is the UK’s continuing problems with attracting clinical trial business in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. At the end of last year, Department of Health data showed the number of early-phase trials approved in the UK had dropped to 210 in 2009, a five-year low.

Veeda Clinical itself signed a collaborative agreement with the Malaysian Ministry of Health last July to open a Phase I and Early Clinical Development Unit in Kuala Lumpur. Earlier that month, it sold Veeda Laboratories Ltd, a biomarker laboratory services subsidiary in Oxford,UK, to Dublin-based CRO ICON for an undisclosed sum.

The company also has a large operation in India and facilities in Belgium, while Veeda Oncology, the specialist research services subsidiary launched in 2008, is active both in Europe and the US.

Veeda Clinical stressed that its current problems were confined to the UK market and that other parts of the business were both growing and recruiting.

The hope, though, is that the situation in Derriford will pick up in the autumn. If that happens, Veeda Clinical said, it has a “very, very strong intention” to bring staff back on board.

The company was formed in October 2005 through a merger of Ahmedabad, India-based ClinSearch Labs Pvt Ltd, the UK contract research organisation Phase I CTU Ltd and Triphasic Clinical Trials Laboratories of Plymouth.