The move comes largely because of the withdrawal of a new anti-cholesterol drug, Torcetrapib, from clinical trials.
Production of the new drug was intended to account for around 40 percent of the company’s “active pharmaceutical ingredient” (API) drug production in Ireland.
The company abandoned work on the drug in December and notified the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after trials showed it increased blood pressure and the risk of death in some patients.
Pfizer announced last week that it is to shed around 10,000 jobs worldwide — around 10 percent of its workforce.
Torcetrapib was to replace its biggest selling drug Lipitor, which comes off patent in 2010, meaning that rivals can then produce it too.
Pfizer said it had to cut jobs in Ireland because of the failure of its new drug to make it to market. Workers were called to early morning meetings on Wednesday, while the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and local TD Miche_l Martin was briefed the night before by Pfizer vice president, Kerryman Terry Lambe.
Sixty-five jobs are to go by the end of the year with the closure of its Ringaskiddy plant. Pfizer also wants to sell off its Loughbeg plant, where 300 work, and part of its Little Island operation where 180 are employed. The Loughbeg facility will be sold next year with Little Island to follow a year later in 2009.
“These are difficult times for the workers and their families. The Government’s priority, together with the IDA [Industrial Development Authority] is to save these 480 jobs by supporting Pfizer in its efforts to secure the sale of the plants,” said Minister Martin.
The company, which has been in Cork since 1972, employs around 1,800 staff manufacturing drugs in Cork and at D_n Laoghaire in Dublin. Another 500 work in financial and support services in Dublin.
The announcement — while not unexpected for analysts of Pfizer — sent shockwaves through Irish government and business circles. It is a particularly hard blow to Cork, coming on top of an announcement a week earlier by U.S. telecommunications behemoth Motorola that it is considering the future of its operation in Cork which employs 350, while last month FCI Ireland announced it is to stop manufacturing electrical conductors in Fermoy, with the loss of 240 jobs.
Fine Gael Cork TD and Member of the European Parliament Simon Coveney however pointed the finger at high operating costs in Ireland, asking: “In simple terms we need to ask the question: has Ireland become a place where it is too expensive to do business?”
“This scale of job losses in Cork is something that we have not seen for years. What is most concerning is that these are job losses in a high skilled area; they are the kind of jobs we need to be attracting to Ireland, not losing,” he added.
“We must ask the hard questions of Government about whether Ireland is no longer being seen as a competitive destination for doing business for large multinationals … We have managed to sustain dramatic growth in the Irish economy by attracting foreign investment and keeping it here over the last 15 years. I hope this announcement is not a turning point in how Ireland will be viewed as a destination for investment,” said Coveney.
However a spokeswoman for Pfizer said that while cost was a factor, it was “certainly not the over-riding one”, adding that Pfizer’s Irish operations will continue to manufacture over a third of the US pharmaceutical giant’s entire drug supply across the world, including its impotence drug Viagra.
Local bosses also said that 200 jobs at the company’s tablet-making plant at Loughbeg and another 200 workers at the Little Island operation would not be affected by the restructuring.
The government will be hoping that the modern plants with highly skilled workers will be attractive to a potential buyer. Union representatives also expressed hope, given that there was between 12 and 24 months to find new owners.
Although the difficulties at Pfizer can be explained in part by the failure of their new drug, the news is of concern in Ireland which is highly dependent on the pharmaceutical and medical technology sectors. Pharmaceutical exports in 2005 were worth over