AstraZeneca to cut 7,300 jobs as outlook darkens

Associated Press SHARE

LONDON (AP) — Drug maker AstraZeneca PLC said it will cut another 7,300 jobs as it warned Thursday of a tough year ahead, due to government spending cuts on healthcare and stiff competition, even as it reported a 24 percent increase in 2011 profits.

The Anglo-Swedish company said its full-year profit was $10 billion, up from $8.1 billion a year earlier. The profit advance was helped heavily by a $1.5 billion gain from the sale of its dental subsidiary, Astra Tech.

The company said revenue this year will be hit by government interventions on prices, generic competition and the loss of exclusivity for Seroquel IR, a drug for the treatment of depression, and hypertension drug Atacand in global markets.

Job cuts and restructuring are expected to save $1.6 billion a year by 2014, the company said. AstraZeneca said it would shortly begin consultations with affected employees.

AstraZeneca shares were down 4.2 percent at 2,960 pence just before noon in London.

Generic competition cut revenue by $2 billion in 2011 while price interventions cost another $1 billion, AstraZeneca said.

Despite its concerns over the year ahead, AstraZeneca raised its full-year dividend by 10 percent to $2.80 a share10 percent, and announced a $4.5 billion share buyback program.

The company reported double-digit sales gains for cholesterol drug Crestor, Symbicort for asthma and Seroquel XR.

U.S. revenues were up 5 percent despite the negative impact of health care reform, while revenue in the rest of the world was down 3 percent, including a 15 percent slide in Europe.

AstraZeneca said it was reshaping its research and development activity to focus on neuroscience, employing 40 to 50 scientists in a new Innovative Medicines unit based in Boston in the United States and Cambridge in England.

The company will close its facility in Montreal and lay off some staff in Soedertaelje in Sweden.

"We've made an active choice to stay in neuroscience though we will work very differently to share cost, risk and reward with partners," said Martin Mackay, the company's president of research and development.

Linda McCulloch, a national officer for Britain's Unite union, said the cuts were a blow to the research and development base.

"If the company can afford a 10 percent hike in its dividends, then it can afford to retain these roles," McCulloch said.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.