China, Workforce

10 years and $100M-plus later, GSK shutters a China R&D site during a major pipeline overhaul

Moncef Slaoui

A decade ago, then GSK R&D chief Moncef Slaoui proudly unveiled a $100 million plan to build a big neurosciences research group in Shanghai. The project called for hiring 1,000 scientists in six years as the pharma giant sought to make major advances on Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and MS.

“We don’t want to give them the crumbs,” Slaoui told the Financial Times, pointedly rejecting the notion that cheap labor had led them to the move. “It’s about different science. We will link our fate to their fate. Within five to ten years we will be moving from ‘made in China’ to ‘discovered in China’.”

Today, GSK let it be known that they are moving on to “pulling out of China.”

The rest of the R&D team will stay in Shanghai, says a spokesperson for the company, but its neurosciences work — or what remains of it — will go to its Philadelphia-area hub.

GSK declined to tell me how many of its once-planned 1,000 hires are being laid off. Here’s the barebones statement.

Following a portfolio review and prioritization, GSK has decided to close its Neuroscience R&D Center in Shanghai and move key programs to its global R&D hub in Upper Providence (just outside Philadelphia), where they will benefit from co-location with other pipeline R&D programs.

The China R&D development organisation will continue to be based in Shanghai and is set to expand over the next two years to accelerate the development of new medicines. We remain committed to China and will focus our R&D efforts in China on the needs of China, at both our Shanghai site and our Institute for Infectious Diseases and Public Health in Bejing.

The big question was why GSK took so long. Once a big player in neurosciences, former CEO Andrew Witty signaled a major retreat from the field in 2011 – though execs stoutly insisted for years that it never exited.

Emma Walmsley

GSK is now undergoing a major pipeline revamp, with new CEO Emma Walmsley looking to add oncology and auto-inflammatory conditions to a pipeline already dominated by HIV/infectious diseases and respiratory conditions. Neurosciences can be found at the very end of its pipeline chart, represented by a single project.

GSK has been undergoing multiple rounds of R&D reorganizations over the last few years. With no emphasis on R&D in the neurosciences field and the pharma giant exiting rare diseases as it chops 30 programs, there’s no guarantee you’ll ever hear of it again.

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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