AstraZeneca has unveiled details of its previously-announced R&D restructuring which includes the closure of a plant in Leicestershire and its withdrawal from discovery research in 10 disease areas, plus most vaccines.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker said it will continue to invest in R&D in “all of its current therapy areas”, namely cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, oncology, respiratory, inflammation, neuroscience and infection. However, within those areas, it will cease discovery efforts in thrombosis, acid reflux, ovarian and bladder cancers, systemic scleroderma, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety hepatitis C and vaccines other than respiratory syncytial virus and influenza.

With these changes will come closures of some of AstraZeneca’s 17 major R&D centres. Taking the UK first, the R&D site at Charnwood in Leicestershire (where 1,200 people are employed) and a smaller facility, acquired through the $121 million purchase of Kudos Pharmaceuticals in 2005, in Cambridge, will close, and pharmaceutical development work at the Avlon facility near Bristol will cease. However, the company noted that the number of people working in R&D at Alderley Park, its largest UK facility will increase as employees transfer from other sites.

AstraZeneca also noted that it is interested in selling Arrow Therapeutics, the antiviral specialist it bought for $150 million in 2007. That business occupies a small facility in London.

Onto Sweden and AstraZeneca’s research site in Lund will close, while early-stage discovery work will be stopped at its facility in Wilmington, USA.

The news put meat on the bones of AstraZeneca’s announcement in January that 3,500 R&D positions will be affected by 2014, though with relocations to other sites, “investment in new capabilities and further expansion of the company’s biologics activities”, the company noted that the net reduction is around 1,800 jobs.

Head of development Anders Ekblom said “we have made real strides in improving our efficiency in recent years, but there is a continuing need to adapt our organisation in anticipation of future challenges”. He added that the changes “will help us create a more focused, innovative and productive company”.

When asked in January by PharmaTimes World News whether the changes that would be made represent a move to almost-withdrawal from the discovery process of R&D, chief executive David Brennan said that was not the case. However it appears that is indeed the case and AstraZeneca's refocusing comes a month after fellow UK major GlaxoSmithKline said it is reducing investment in the neuroscience area and ceasing discovery research in areas such as pain and depression.