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Actelion to cut Swiss R&D jobs and refocus research

Swiss biopharma says it needs to free up resources to compete in PAH market

Actelion HQ Switzerland

Actelion is to cut its R&D workforce as part of a cost-saving plan to free up the resources it needs to expand in pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH).

Up to 135 positions at the Swiss biopharma company are at risk. Around 115 of the roles are in research and development and based in Allschwil, Switzerland, with the remaining cuts affecting administrative positions.

It's the second time pharma jobs have been cut in the country in recent months, and follows Merck KGaA's plans to close its Swiss operations in Geneva and Coinsins with the loss of over 500 jobs.

Actelion said it would try to minimise the number of potential redundancies through natural attrition, early retirements and other such measures, and has begun an consultation process with employee representatives in Allschwil.

CEO Jean-Paul Clozel said: "In order to take full advantage of the growth opportunities ahead of us, we must take decisive action now. We will maintain the earning power of our business thereby balancing long-term growth opportunities with short-term profitability enhancement."

Actelion, which in May forecast flat earnings growth for 2012 and 2013, said it faced several challenges, such as the continued strength of the Swiss Franc, increased US competition and a difficult pricing and reimbursement environment in Europe.

The cuts will enable Actelion to “fully capitalise on the significant growth opportunities in its core area of expertise”, that of pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), the company said in a statement.

Actelion's three PAH treatments, including its lead product Tracleer, have faced increasing competition over the last year, primarily as a result of US label changes for Gilead/GSK's rival drug Letairis (ambrisentan).

The US Food and Drug Administration ruled in March 2011 that Gilead/GSK's treatment, which is marketed as Volibris in Europe, no longer had to carry a warning about liver injury, making it a much stronger competitor for Tracleer.

As a result Actelion said it would focus on two new PAH compounds, macitentan and selexipag, both of which are in phase III development.

The company said it expected the cost saving initiative to be implemented by the end of 2012, but warned it could be followed by more upheaval.

Announcing the initiative Actelion also said it would 'refocus' its R&D towards orphan and specialty indications “so as to generate - in the mid-term - additional specialty franchises”.

This change is expected to result in lower and more targeted R&D spending, and after Actelion reviews its pipeline portfolio, projects that are “not in alignment with this strategy will be either stopped, or prepared for partnership or out-licensing”. Actelion added that the refocusing of its pipeline would require “a realignment of the organisation”.

Despite the current cost-cutting focus in its homeland Actelion said “key global function are – and will continue to be – headquartered in Switzerland”.

12th July 2012

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