Pfizer will retain some of its "pharmaceutical sciences operations" at its R&D facility in Sandwich, UK, a move which will preserve about 350 jobs.

This is the most positive news to come out of the site in Kent since February, when the US giant announced that the major facility, which employed 2,400 people, would close. Pfizer now says the staff that are retained  will support the development of products in the mid- and late- stage pipeline and will review this operation within a few years, as part of its normal business planning.

The company sent a statement to PharmaTimes World News saying that it will continue a phased exit of the rest of the Sandwich plant by the end of 2012. However, Pfizer hopes that its retained presence will attract new investors and occupants onto the site, and will "continue to actively market it as ‘Discovery Park’ through its brokers CBRE, and in close collaboration with UK Trade and Investment and Locate in Kent".

The company had been hard at work negotiating with contract research organisations to see if the latter would be able to take on some the facilities at Sandwich. However, until now, these talks have not resulted in any definite deals.

Site director Ruth McKernan, who will leave Sandwich to become chief scientific officer at Pfizer’s Neusentis unit, a pain and sensory disorders division based in Cambridge, UK, said "we are hopeful, that by retaining this core group at Sandwich, Pfizer will be the first of many companies to locate on the site". She added that "we remain focused on securing new owners and investment into Discovery Park". Dr McKernan will be succeeded as site head by Annette Doherty.

Pfizer's move applauded

The UK government has responded positively to the news and David Willetts, minister of state for universities and science, said the decision will "provide extra time for complex commercial negotiations with potential investors so that a long-term future can be secured for the site at Sandwich".

Paul Carter, chairman of the Sandwich Economic Development Task Force and leader of Kent County Council, said that securing the 350 jobs "is a step in the right direction and is positive news". He added that "we must now work with Pfizer and their marketing agent CBRE to secure further investors and businesses on-site, and encourage inward investment and occupancy in a whole array of business activity".