Novartis cutting up to 500 jobs, but adding 350 more in high-tech biologics

Dive Brief:

  • Novartis plans to cut as many as 500 jobs involved in traditional manufacturing and development operations from around its Basel, Switzerland headquarters, a spokesperson for the Swiss pharma confirmed. 
  • At the same time, Novartis plans to add 350 new "high-tech manufacturing and scientific" positions over the next 18 months, mainly oriented around development and biologics manufacturing. 
  • The planned moves continue a global shake-up to research operations, first begun in 2016 when Novartis announced it would split its oncology business from its pharmaceuticals division — organizing both under the umbrella of a new Innovative Medicines group. 

Dive Insight:

Since that May 2016 announcement, Novartis has made a number of changes to its global footprint, mostly notably standing up two new centers for biotherapeutic research in Basel and Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

The centers will both be home to a early discovery research group that will be integrated with Novartis Institutes of BioMedical Research (NIBR). 

In an interview with BioPharma Dive at the JP Morgan conference in January, NIBR President Jay Bradner said the shifts were aimed at bringing innovation into closer adjacency with Novartis' organizational hubs. 

"It meant a small international footprint but with a greater density of innovation," Bradner said. 

As part of that effort, Novartis closed down biologics groups in Shanghai, China, and in Schlieren, Switzerland, and relocated the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases from Singapore to Emeryville, CA. More surprising, however, was the Swiss pharma's decision to fold its Cell & Gene Therapy unit, which led CAR-T development, back into the larger company organization. 

"As we looked at the Cell and Gene Therapy unit, we identified that the field had matured to a point where what it needed most of all was to be more a part of Novartis," Bradner said in the January interview. 

This week's move could involve the closure of production sites at Novartis' Basel and Schweizerhalle campuses, according to a report from FirstWord Pharma

Novartis' focus on expanding its biologics-oriented staff follows the market. Transparency Market Research predicts the value of the global biologics market will more than double between 2016 and 2024, rising from $209.8 billion to $479.8 billion. Big pharma players, including Bristol-Myers Squibb, Roche and Eli Lilly, continue to invest heavily in biologics drug development, betting on delivering advances in areas from immuno-oncology to neuroscience. 

That investment has been reflected in the number of novel biologics approved by the Food and Drug Administration: nearly 28% of new molecular entities approved between 2014 and 2016 were biologics. 

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Top image credit: Andrew Hecht