Novartis has announced plans to shed some 500 positions in the UK through an operational restructuring of its site in Horsham, West Sussex.

At present, there are around 950 staff working at the Horsham campus and that figure will fall to around 400 over the next two years. Novartis noted that of the workforce, some 330 are dedicated to respiratory research which will remain in Horsham.

However, the Basel-headquartered group noted that "other global line functions are recommended to exit" the facility. To "further align with global priorities", the gastrointestinal research teams at Horsham will be co-located with teams in Basel and Cambridge over a one-two year period, while Novartis UK's over-the-counter operations will move to (or near to) the Novartis Frimley site.

The company said that those employees "whose roles are put at risk by the proposal" will be supported with opportunities for redeployment or alternative positions. In a statement e-mailed to PharmaTimes World News, Sue Webb, country president for UK & Ireland, said Novartis is "continuously evaluating its resource allocation to ensure that the organisation is highly flexible and able to proactively adapt to external challenges". She added that “with significant changes in healthcare systems aimed to contain or cut cost, this critical assessment and the subsequent potential changes to the Novartis UK organisation are key to maintain significant investment in innovative drugs and our research efforts in the UK".

Indeed, Novartis stressed it will maintain its major manufacturing sites in Grimsby, Liverpool and Dundee, adding that it "believes the environment for the pharmaceutical industry in the UK is a good one". The company added that "we are collaborating with the government on a number of valuable initiatives to promote lifesciences research in the UK, including Clinical Research Networks, the Academic Health Science Centres and the Therapeutic Capability Clusters".

Novartis declared that no final decision has been made on the impact on the work force at Horsham and any move is subject to an employee consultation process and final UK board approval. Those whose roles are put at risk by the proposal will be supported by the company in terms of opportunities for redeployment or alternative positions, plus other assistance. As for the 500 job loss figure, Novartis said that as the proposals are currently under consultation it is not possible to conclude the final impact on staff numbers.

Nevertheless, some observers see the plans as a blow to pharma in the UK, coming hot on the heels of Pfizer's decision to close its R&D facility in Sandwich, Kent, with up to 2,400 jobs going.