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Companies across the industry have contributed to biotech layoffs in early 2024, driven by factors ranging from operational restructuring to strategic pivots and clinical trial failures, with major hubs like California and Massachusetts bearing the brunt of the impact. A recent analysis assembled with the help a machine learning technique known as clustering reveals a pattern of job cuts across various groups, from diversified biotechs to strategic pivots. 

1. Diversified biotechs seek operational efficiency

Companies within this cluster, including giants such as Illumina and Thermo Fisher Scientific but also smaller players like NanoString Technologies, encountered layoffs primarily as a result of operational reorganizations. Illumina’s significant layoffs were a part of a $100M cost-cutting initiative following the failed acquisition of cancer test maker Grail. NanoString Technologies decided to trim 9% of its workforce, translating to about 50 positions. This decision comes after the company laid off about 110 workers in late 2023, leaving it with a little more than 500 employees. The layoffs are expected to incur approximately $2 million in costs, primarily for severance pay and transition expenses.

2. Strategic pivots translate to tough workforce decisions

Companies ranging from Aera Therapeutics to Intellia Therapeutics shed jobs as part of strategic realignments. Given continued funding challenges, a common goal was to concentrate on core projects and extend financial runways. For instance, Rallybio laid off nearly half its workforce to focus on advancing two phase 2 candidates, while C4 Therapeutics cut 30% of staff to reprioritize drug development efforts. Additionally, Senti Biosciences significantly reduced its workforce to focus on its leading clinical programs, extending its cash runway into 2025.

3. Clinical-stage biotechs slim down after setbacks

Firms in this category faced layoffs owing to a range of strategic decisions and setbacks, most notably clinical trial failures. Synlogic, for instance, cut workers to focus towards high-potential projects. The drastic measures taken by AlloVir, cutting 95% of its workforce following clinical trial disappointments, highlight the precarious nature of clinical development and the critical impact of trial outcomes on company viability.

4. Big Pharmas dominate biotech layoffs in 2024

Some pharmaceutical giants, such as Pfizer and Roche, have pared down their workforce as part of broader restructuring efforts. These moves tend to aim to bolster operational efficiency and optimize R&D spending. While relatively given in terms of a percentage of overall employees, these layoffs collectively totaled 2,220 positions from January to March 6, representing almost 60% of the total layoffs across the sector in 2024.

The map below shows the impact of biopharma layoffs on major industry hubs across the U.S. with California and Massachusets seeing the most job cuts.