Ireland is set to feel the effect of Pfizer’s restructuring plans after the world's largest drugmaker announced it is closing manufacturing plants in the country, which could lead to the loss of over 500 jobs.

Terry Lambe, Pfizer's vice president of manufacturing for Ireland and Singapore, confirmed that part of one plant in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork, would shut by the end of this year with the loss of 65 jobs, while production will end at two other sites (Little Island and Loughbeg) by 2009, putting another 480 jobs at risk.

Pfizer said that it hopes to sell the two latter units as going concerns and will be working with Ireland's Investment and Development Agency (IDA) to find a buyer and keep the plants going. That approach has the backing of Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Micheal Martin who said “the government's priority, together with the IDA, is to save these 480 jobs by supporting Pfizer in its efforts to secure the sale of the plants."

The cutbacks form part of Pfizer’s plans to reduce its global workforce by 10%, as well as close several manufacturing and research facilities, in an effort to reduce costs by as much as $2 billion annually by the end of 2008. Mr Lambe said “we have concluded that these reductions are required to bring our capacity in line with anticipated demand,'' citing delays of new compounds, changing technology and movement of products to lower-cost locations as the reason for the decision.

In particular, he noted that Pfizer's decision in December to end development of its new cholesterol lowerer torcetrapib due to safety concerns was "by far the most significant factor impacting future capacity demand in Ireland." The firm had spent $90 million on expanding the Loughbeg plant in order to manufacture torcetrapib there.

However Pfizer stressed that it has no intention of pulling out of Ireland altogether and Mr Lambe said "new technologies are changing the way pharmaceuticals are being manufactured and Pfizer is investing in those technologies in Ireland. We are confident that the steps we're taking today will better align our operations in Ireland with our future needs and strengthen our manufacturing base."