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By Noëlle Mennella
PARIS/TOULOUSE (Reuters) - Sanofi plans to cut 207 jobs in France as part of the drug company's latest reshuffle of its research operations, which unions said would also lead to layoffs at vaccine and animal health divisions.
Sanofi management told union representatives on Tuesday that the group planned to cut 376 research jobs in France, offset by the creation of 169 new openings, mostly near Paris.
"As far as research and development is concerned, this plan could lead to a net loss of 207 jobs out of 5,000," a Sanofi spokesman said.
The company employs around 28,000 people in France in total.
Sanofi had to scale back job-cut plans last year after protests from unions, which predicted layoffs could run to 2,500. The then newly elected socialist government, trying to contain rising unemployment, also put pressure on Sanofi over the cuts.
As a result, the company modified the plans to around 900 layoffs by 2015.
Sanofi also agreed in May to keep a presence in Toulouse, where it had wanted to close a research center, for about five years, preserving a number of jobs there.
The company may also spin off activities and will explore the establishment of local start-ups on the site.
Sanofi has been reorganizing its research operations around the world into regional hubs and closing some laboratories to cut costs to offset the impact of a squeeze on revenues from patent expiries on several big-selling drugs.
Unions said more jobs would go as a result of this process, which will relocate research facilities spread around France to Paris, Lyon and Strasbourg, while closing other sites.
Union documents estimated that under the latest plan, vaccine maker Sanofi Pasteur expects to lose 754 staff to reflect the end of certain vaccine production lines. But the business would also create 309 new jobs.
A further 243 jobs would be cut at Merial, the Lyon-based animal health division, and the generic business, according to the union documents.
The Sanofi spokesman said it was premature to comment on the number of layoffs planned for these businesses.
He said the initial discussions that took place on Tuesday would be followed by other meetings with trade unions.
(Reporting by Noelle Mennella in Paris and Julie Rimbert in Toulouse; Writing by Elena Berton. Editing by Jane Merriman)