Over the past several years, tens of thousands of jobs have been eliminated by the pharmaceutical industry. The reasons are not new: expiring patents on big sellers, shifting priorities on research projects and an ongoing need to convince Wall Street that numbers can be managed no matter what is taking place in the labs. But has the bloodletting finally slowed down? A new report suggests that, at least in the US, the answer may be yes. Maybe.

From January through July 2011, the number of layoffs in the pharmaceutical industry numbered 18,264, according to Challenger Gray & Christmas, the outplacement consulting firm. This contrasts with 8,958 that were tallied during the same period this year (see this). The implication is, in fact, that layoffs are finally slowing as drugmakers, biotechs and related companies have exhausted their ability to shove huge numbers of employees off the gangplank on a regular basis.

Whether the end is drawing near, though, is unlikely. Just this week, Dendreon announced it will eliminate 600 jobs and close a facilitiy in New Jersey (look here). Last month, Roche announced plans to trim 1,000 R&D jobs and shutter a New Jersey operation, with some positions going to Europe or elsewhere on the East Coast (see this). And the MedImmune unit at AstraZeneca is axing 200 jobs in California as well. In France, Sanofi plans to eliminate as many as 2,000 jobs (read here).

Of course, these numbers are not perfect. Some companies cut jobs in dribs and drabs, thereby avoiding having to file notices of large layoffs with government agencies. This means some layoffs do not appear on radar screens. For example, sources say that Express Scripts has been gradually eliminating workers at the Medco Health Solutions headquarters in New Jersey since acquiring the pharmacy benefits manager earlier this year.

At the same time, though, hiring does continue as investment is made in certain research, such as oncology, or countries. Roche, for instance, may be eliminating jobs in New Jersey but has plans to add about 1,000 workers in China, according to a recent report (see this). In other words, the tallies are not the last word on job losses, but this does provide a sobering window into the larger phenomenon.

By Ed Silverman, Pharmalot, August 2, 2012