Following a review of its Irish operations Pfizer Ireland is to close one of its manufacturing units at Ringaskiddy in Cork, and will sell its manufacturing units at  Little Island and Loughbeg, also in Cork, with over 500 jobs affected.

Staff were informed this morning that the Ringaskiddy unit in question will close by the end of this year, after the termination of a key drug manufactured last year. The unit employs 65 people.

Some manufacturing at Little Island and all manufacturing at Loughbeg will be phased out next year and in 2009, the company said.

The company said it plans to sell the affected operation at Little Island as well as the Loughbeg plant as going concerns, hoping to preserve jobs at these two locations.

Pfizer says it has successfully completed a number of such sales of facilities in Europe and the US and it will be working closely with the IDA on the matter.

In a statement the company said around 180 employees at Little Island and about 300 at Loughbeg would be affected.

A spokeswoman for Pfizer said the company hopes to replace some of the 65 jobs in vacancies in the other three Pfizer manufacturing plants at Ringaskiddy, and some staff may have to take voluntary redundancy.

She said that there are state of the art facilities at the two plants that are being sold, because of Pfizer's over-capacity issue, and that the company believes they would be attractive to other firms.

Terry Lambe, Pfizer's vice president of manufacturing for Ireland and Singapore, said the decisions are part of a restructuring plan to reduce the company's global plant network by 50% over four years.

Late last year, the company was forced to abandon plans to produce a new anti-cholesterol drug called torcetrapib at a plant at Ringaskiddy which had been built at a cost of $90m. The company spent $800m developing the drug.

Today Lambe said that the termination of torcetrapib was by far the most significant factor impacting future capacity demand in Ireland.

Other reasons given for cutting capacity at the Irish plants were delays or discontinuation of new products, changing technology and movement of products to lower-cost locations.

Lambe said Pfizer considers Ireland a key manufacturing location and continues to make significant investments here. 

Pfizer employees 2,200 people in this country, most of those in Cork. The company's operations in Dublin in Dun Laoghaire and in the IFSC are not affected by today's announcement.

CEO of the Cork Chamber of Commerce, Conor Healy, expressed his disappointment at the announcement which could have a significant impact on the local economy should suitable buyers of the two facilities not be found.

However, he added he believed buyers could be sourced as the facilities being sold are of a high standard, with highly skilled staff and are located in a leading region for the global pharmaceutical industry.

He said despite today's announcement the company will be a significant contributor to the Cork region into the future.