MPs to grill Pfizer on closure of Sandwich site

LONDON Fri Feb 4, 2011 4:28pm GMT

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LONDON (Reuters) - Pfizer faces a grilling from MPs, who want an explanation for its decision this week to shutter a giant research and development centre in Sandwich, southern England, which employs 2,400 people.

The parliamentary Science and Technology Committee said on Friday it planned to take oral evidence from representatives of the world's biggest drugmaker, as well as science minister David Willetts.

Pfizer's decision to quit the research site where Viagra was discovered is a major setback for Britain, which has a long history as a centre of drug development.

Committee chairman Andrew Miller MP said the move was "deeply worrying" and members of parliament had urgent questions that needed answering.

"It is not only a cruel blow for the Pfizer employees -- many are highly skilled -- but it also raises questions about UK Plc's ability to use science to drive the economy," he said in a statement.

Pfizer, which is exiting Sandwich over the next 18-24 months as part of a global drive to rationalise its research, said the majority of staff would be made redundant, although some might find work at other Pfizer sites.

Sandwich is Pfizer's biggest R&D facility in Europe and the largest R&D site of any foreign-owned drugmaker in Britain. It has been a base for drug discovery for the U.S.-based group since 1954.

Researchers at Pfizer's Sandwich site, which resembles a university campus, have been responsible for discovering several high-profile Pfizer products, including impotence pill Viagra, heart drug Norvasc and HIV/AIDS medicine Celsentri.

The government has traditionally punched above its weight in drug research, but it has already been hit in the past year by other planned research cuts at AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline.

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)

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