Pfizer pulls out of Sandwich, Kent - what are your views?

Pfizer pulls out of Sandwich, Kent - what are your views?

Posted by Jon Edwards on Feb 2, 2011 3:04 pm

Yesterday the news broke that Pfizer are to shut down their R&D operation in Sandwich, Kent, which employs around 2,400 people. Around 2,000 of those jobs are expected to be made redundant.
The RSC sees this as a terrible blow to Kent and to the UK, as pharmaceuticals is central to the country's economy and one of its greatest success stories. We think the Government should do all it can to encourage pharmaceutical companies of all sizes to remain and grow in the UK.

One in five pounds in the UK economy is produced by the chemical sciences, and the pharma sector over past decade generated trade surplus reaching almost £7 billion in 2009.

For those directly affected by the news this must be a difficult time. The RSC offers excellent counselling and careers guidance, and our own Charlie Ashley-Roberts has already posted advice on the MyRSC Careers Adviser blog and will continue to do so.

We'd like to know what your views are. What do you think of Pfizer's decision to pull out of Kent? Have you been affected? What should the RSC be doing? What should the Government be doing?

Jon Edwards | RSC Communications Manager |

Re: Pfizer pulls out of Sandwich, Kent - what are your views?

Posted by Jon Edwards on Feb 2, 2011 3:27 pm

Actually some great insight came last night from Gareth on our "Confessions of an Undergrad" blog - read it here

He raised a particularly interesting point about Pfizer's funding of other things:

Jobs are not my only concern. What happens to all the sponsorship and funding that is provided by Pfizer? is this just going to compound the problems that young academics have in getting funding? What about undergraduate students doing year in industry schemes; are we seeing the end of the 'MChem with a year in industry?'
Good questions...

Jon Edwards | RSC Communications Manager |

Re: Pfizer pulls out of Sandwich, Kent - what are your views?

Posted by Brian Iddon on Feb 3, 2011 2:13 pm

This is an extremely disappointing decision that should be closely scrutinised by our Government. I suggest that, in the first place, the Science and Technology Select Committee in the House of Commons conduct an emergency inquiry and try to establish the reasons behind this decision. Our young people will not be encouraged to study the STEM subjects when employment prospects are reduced to this degree. Pfizer UK has produced a lot of profitable drugs for the parent company; why didn't they reorganise their areas of research rather than ditch the entire talented workforce? Is it a sign of what will begin to happen when Regional Development Agencies disappear shortly?

Dr Brian Iddon, former MP and a former Member of the S&T Select Committee

Re: Pfizer pulls out of Sandwich, Kent - what are your views?

Posted by Leighton Jones on Feb 6, 2011 5:19 pm

I agree with the above. Its not just graduates or other, but undergraduates are also affected. I have a friend who was successful in being awarded an industrial placement with Pfizer at the sandwich site for 20011/2012. He has tried to contact Pfizer but cannot seem to get any response whatsoever. He is now uncertain if he still has a year industrial placement with them. Its disappointing to see such a supposedly commendable organisation cut and run. 

Re: Pfizer pulls out of Sandwich, Kent - what are your views?

Posted by Robert Slinn on Feb 7, 2011 1:26 pm

Regarding the latest body blow to the UK pharmaceutical industry (re-Pfizers) and Chemisty UK in general, viz education and research cut-backs, I wonder what part, if any, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser has on government policy. At the moment, we desperately need a Chemist at the forefront advising this coalition government but unfortunately, and out of due respect to this distinguished postholder, the present incumbent is not a Chemist. Regarding pharmaceuticals, I admit that the current licensing procedure in the UK is too lengthy, and has been reported in the media lately and used as an excuse, but this does not help the situation at all.

The RSC via lobbying can still play a major part in emphasising the importance of Chemistry and Science as a whole to this country's future, bleak that it may seem at the moment. Irrespective of the global recession, personally I still believe that these problems really stem both from advances and changes in manufacturing technology and the current education system. On this, I still believe in a balanced mixture of in-house work-based training and part-time university/college education as an alternative and in addition to full time study.

I must point out that the Chief Executive (Dr Richard Pike) of the RSC appeared on the BBC Today programme on Radio 4 on 2nd February, immediately after the announcement, to highlight the seriousness of this and other cases in general, podcast available at

Re: Pfizer pulls out of Sandwich, Kent - what are your views?

Posted by Jon Edwards on Feb 8, 2011 11:16 am

We've recently learned there will be a Science & Technology Select Committee enquiry into the closure of the Pfizer plant, and if more to prevent it could have been done by the Government. They will question representatives from Pfizer and the Science Minister David Willetts.

more info here:

In a Written Parliamentary Question Andrew Miller MP, chair of the Committee, asked the Science Minister if he would meet with representatives from the RSC to talk about the circumstances of the closure and its implications on UK science. The Minister asked that the RSC send him its concerns.

What should we be telling the Minister? What do you think will come from the enquiry?

Jon Edwards | RSC Communications Manager |

Re: Pfizer pulls out of Sandwich, Kent - what are your views?

Posted by on Feb 8, 2011 11:47 am

Indeed, UK pharma will no doubt face some tricky challenges ahead.  A recent article in the FT ( has suggested that "the industry's contraction is the failure of its old hugely expensive research and development model to come up with the goods".  Harsh words from the FT!! Pfizer did, however, make it clear that this decision was part of a global programme of changes to R&D and not a reflection on the UK environment. 

So where is the silver lining... after all, the UK is home to four of the top 10 universities in the world and 19 of the top 100, one of the world's three major financial centres, a stable of quality service providers, world class research charities and a rich heritage of globally recognised medical research.  Where are the opportunities for the UK, and more importantly chemistry, in a changing global Pharma landscape??

Indeed, the current CSA is not a chemist per se (the previous one, Sir David King, was - he reigned from 2000-2008), although he is a strong advocate for science, and in particular the need for strength in science to support evidence-based policy and economic growth.  An interesting interview with Sir John from November here...

The RSC is certainly doing all it can to emphasise the importance of chemistry and science to the country's future.  The recent Oxford Economics report, commissioned by the RSC (, found that chemistry contributes to an astonishing 21% of GDP and supports 6 million jobs.  This evidence, and of course other sources, formed a strong part of the case for science in the run-up to the Comprehensive Spending Review in October - David Willetts used this report as part of his evidence to plead the case for science.  The RSC is in the process of developing a detailed position on UK pharma in the wake of the announcement from Pfizer, a link to the initial RSC press release can be found here:  And as the professional body that represents many of those employed at the Sandwich site, the RSC is doing all it can to support our members:

Immediately following the Pfizer announcement, Andrew Miller, Chair of the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee asked David Willetts whether he would "meet representatives of the Royal Society of Chemistry to discuss the implications for scientific research of the decision by Pfizer to close its site in Kent."  The answer from the minister was "I would be happy for the Royal Society of Chemistry to send me its view of the implications for scientific research of the decision by Pfizer to exit its site at Sandwich."

We will of course be accepting this invitation.  Some food for thought to readers in the meantime... if you had 30 seconds in an elevator with David Willetts, what message would you give him?

Re: Pfizer pulls out of Sandwich, Kent - what are your views?

Posted by Robert Slinn on Feb 8, 2011 1:14 pm

Thank you James for this comprehensive and excellent comment which is most welcome, and which clearly explains the current role and policies of the RSC.

Re: Pfizer pulls out of Sandwich, Kent - what are your views?

Posted by Oliver Grievson on Feb 11, 2011 12:36 am

I'm joining this conversation from Linked In where we had a sub conversation of our own. The Pfizer decision seems to be a commercial one and, yes, things could have been done by the government to encourage them to stay in ths country at least in one form or another. maybe with a reduction in size rather than a complete closure of their research facilities. However should we really rely on one company for a large proportion of scientific research. The impact of Pfizers decision has rightly caused an outcry, i seem to remember several years ago when i was based out of a Public Analyst Laboratory in London doing testing on water from Glaxo Smithkline research laboratories (don't aks me why they sent ptoable water to a public analyst laboraotry but that was their perogative). So the UK's research industry, although it has been dealt a big blow by this closure, is not out for the count yet.

Yes, there does need to be an enquiry into why Pfizer has chosen to leave Kent but we need to seriously listen to their reply and see what has to be done to encourage other company research departments to grow and fill the gap.

The brief discussion wh had over on Linked In was centred around the general decline of Science in general including chemistry and our discussions centred around the need for tackling the interest in chemistry at the grass roots (i.e. schools) and encouraging our children into the chemical sciences by teachnig that wil inspire and not be limited by current Health & Safety regulations (i think the maximum strength of an acid that can be used in schools is around 10%). With this we can develop a future generation of scientists, something that has been discouraged in the last decade with a government that was either unknowledgeable or a lack of interest of the disciplines that are the backbone of our country and our rapidly becoming the one of the "hidden" industries much like the water and wastewater industry that i practise in on a daily basis.

This year i see is the International Year of Chemistry. It is our chance to revitalise the chemical sciences and in fact science in general as it is on a general declie in this country. It is a chance to spark the minds of our younger generations to inspire them to see more knowledge about a disciplime where the day to day knowledge is certainly lacking. Certainly in the wastewater industry, schools come to visit and this is worth it if it encourages just 1% of the children who come and see how what they flush down the loo is treated, and also see how scientifically based it is. I am sure that the wastewater industry isn't on its own in this approach

Re: Pfizer pulls out of Sandwich, Kent - what are your views?

Posted by Fiona McMillan on Feb 11, 2011 9:55 am

Hi Oliver,

As an aside to this discussion I was wondering if you had considered joining the RSC Water Science Forum? All RSC members can now join up to 3 RSC Interest Groups as part of their membership subscription and I think you would find the work of the WSF really interesting.

The Group is represented on MyRSC here: and they run a lot of really interesting conferences.
Member Networks Team Leader

Re: Pfizer pulls out of Sandwich, Kent - what are your views?

Posted by Kevin Prior on Feb 11, 2011 11:50 am


Thanks for the plug. Oliver may also be interested in The Global Chemistry Experiment this is using Water as it's theme.    

Contrary to many pundits comments the UK water sector does get involved in R&D with a number of institutions having strong water interests e.g. Cranfield The Pennine Water Group at Sheffield. I do agree that we all as scientists need to make the subject interesting and "cool" to folks somewhat younger than me ! Kevin Prior (Treasurer Water Science Forum)

Re: Pfizer pulls out of Sandwich, Kent - what are your views?

Posted by David Taylor on Feb 14, 2011 5:06 pm

The question I have is why is everyone so surprised. 

It has been clear for the last 10 years that the research pharmaceutical industry was facing major problems that would come to fruition in the years 2009 to 2011.  It has not been a secret.  The primary problem is the impact of patent expiries relating to the blockbuster drugs that were introduced into the market in the 1980s and therefore invented in the 1970s.  Pfizer will shortly lose its patent on Lipitor and thus will lose almost 50% of its revenue.  Most of the other major drug companies have similar problems. These companies are now fighting to survive. 

This is a long standing issue which, despite many attempts to resolve it, still remains.  The industry we see today is a result of a small number of highly successful drugs introduced into the market since World War II.  These compounds, for example the beta blockers, the statins, the PPIs, SSRIs etc generated very large income streams and this was thought, not unreasonably to be a long term sustainable model.  It didn't matter too much that patents expired after about 20 years because by then the next new drug was coming to market, thus preserving your cash flow.  As companies got larger, by swallowing up less successful competitors, it became necessary to increase the number of new drugs and the "obvious" way to do this was to simply pour more money, of which there was no shortage, into R&D.  More money in = more drugs out. The R&D side of the big Pharma companies grew exponentially with fantastic facilities.  Unfortunately this theory has now been shown to be a fallacy, the number of new drugs produced is not proportionate to the amount of R&D. In addition, regulatory oversight has become increasingly stringent and company accountants have become increasingly risk averse. 

A range of solutions and R&D revolutions have taken place but it appears that nobody knows how to maximise drug innovation.  Currently Merck and Pfizer are pursuing diametrically opposite strategies. 

However the bottom line is that the big pharma companies can no longer afford the R&D facilities that they have created and thus large parts of pharma R&D are being closed. This is very bad news for the scientists and bad news for the UK economy but it really should not come as a surprise


Re: Pfizer pulls out of Sandwich, Kent - what are your views?

Posted by Robert Slinn on Feb 14, 2011 11:14 pm

As a rider to David's comments, I have noticed this recent report regarding pharmaceutical (drug) discovery in the U.S. and wonder whether it pertains to the UK.

'A surprising number of valuable new drugs and vaccines approved in the United States have arisen wholly from research funded by the public sector, new research finds. The authors of a study published Feb. 10 in the New England Journal of Medicine count 153 new drugs and vaccines from public sector research institutes over the past 40 years. '

Re: Pfizer pulls out of Sandwich, Kent - what are your views?

Posted by David Bowen on Jun 18, 2011 6:33 pm

Sorry to add a comment so late.  In addition to the Pfizer staff, up to 1500 contract workers and sub-contractors will also lose their jobs, or have to move.  Part of the problem is having such a large site as the main local employer and main local scientific enterprise.  However, Pfizer will retain both research and commercial facilities in the UK, and will remain a large employer of UK technical staff. 

It seems to me that the Sandwich site needs to be retained by Pfizer (or another long-lived entity) and used as the base to incubate startup technical industries.  These should not be exclusively pharmaceutical, but might also include: 
  • renewable energy
  • energy storage
  • green chemistry
  • agricultural and marine chemistries 
  • mining waste dumps for metals, energy, and other resources (there is an old covered tip near the site)
  • ... other ideas? 
If scientists who wish to live in East Kent have an encouraging base from which to work, and have time to explore the business models for some of these new business areas, it will be possible to create ten or twenty new companies.  If only one or two of these grow, we can make good use of the facilities on the site (which represent a large capital investment by Pfizer and by the County). 

There might also be local investment available.  Pfizer is making about 2,000 staff redundant;  a further 1,500 contract staff are involved;  there are about 1,500 retired (or otherwise ex-Pfizer) staff, many still in or near East Kent.  If only 1,000 of these invested £1,000, there would be a fund of £1,000,000 to invest in start-up companies. 

Perhaps the government should press Pfizer to be one of the investors.  Pfizer has plenty of cash, and would probably benefit from some diversity of investment and thinking. 

Re: Pfizer pulls out of Sandwich, Kent - what are your views?

Posted by trang nguyen on Aug 26, 2012 8:32 am

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Re: Pfizer pulls out of Sandwich, Kent - what are your views?

Posted by on Aug 27, 2012 3:52 pm

Yeah, I don't know why they haven't come up with Google Opinions yet where you can search to see what everybody around you thinks!... :p

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