The Top Biotech Layoffs of 2009...and a Silver Lining

Last Updated Jan 17, 2010 5:59 PM EST

According to various sources, there were roughly 5,000 people laid off from about 80 biotech companies in 2009.

As bad as that appears at first glance, biotech doesn't hold a candle to big pharma. Pfizer (PFE) alone shed 19,500 jobs last year, while Merck (MRK) laid off 16,000 employees and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) trimmed 8,900 positions.

BNET previously reported on the top big pharma layoffs, but pulling together a similar list for biotech has proven tricky. For one thing, there are a lot more biotechs to keep track of. And everyone has their own definition of biotech, which may or may not include devices, diagnostics or big pharma R&D divisions (all of which I'm excluding for this list). Keeping all that in mind, here's my first stab at a list of top biotech layoffs for 2009...am I missing any?

First: Sepracor (SEPR) with 530. The layoffs represented 20 percent of Sepracor's workforce, and another 410 contract sales reps also got the axe. The move was intended to revamp the company's sales structure, which was apparently attractive enough to warrant a $2.6 billion acquisition by Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma later in 2009.

Second: Allergan (AGN) with 460. This five percent workforce reduction followed disappointing year-end 2008 profits.

Third: Genmab (COPENHAGEN:GEN) with 300. What a way to celebrate its first FDA approval, which leukemia drug Arzerra (ofatumumab) won a week before the layoffs. But Genmab wanted to cut manufacturing and late-stage clinical work to focus on antibody discovery.

Fourth: Oscient Pharmaceuticals (OSCI) with 280. Oscient cut about 100 jobs in February to enhance its attractiveness as an acquisition target. When that didn't work, the firm cut another 180 in June as it dumped the sales force for its two marketed products. Cornerstone Therapeutics later picked up Oscient's antibiotic Factive during bankruptcy.

Fifth: Amylin Pharmaceuticals (AMLN) with 200. After cutting 340 jobs at the end of 2008 amid declining diabetes drug sales and regulatory delays, Amylin dropped 200 sales reps in mid-2009.

The silver lining? According to a BioWorld Insight analysis, nearly 80 percent of the 2009 layoffs occurred in the first half of the year, which insinuates that things hit bottom and then bounced back.

  • Trista Morrison

    Trista Morrison is a staff writer at BioWorld Today, a daily newspaper that