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Astrazeneca Is Investing in a New R&D Center in Cambridge, UK


By Nuala Moran
Staff Writer

LONDON – "I really hope to create a building where as you walk round the corridors, at the coffee machine and in the cafeteria, that you hear people talking science, that science becomes the language of the place."

That is the vision Menelas Pangalos, executive vice president of innovative medicines at Astrazeneca plc, outlined as he discussed the announcement that the company's new £330 million (US$514 million) global R&D center and corporate headquarters is to be built on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

That will put the center within walking distance of a number of world-class institutions, including the Laboratory of Molecular Biology – widely regarded as the birthplace of medical biotechnology in the UK – and Cambridge University School of Medicine, Addenbrooke's Hospital, the Institute of Metabolic Science and the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute.

Now the site has been selected, the architects can begin work based on the chosen location, with ground due to be broken this time next year and the new building to house 2,000 employees by 2016.

Small-molecule and biologics R&D, currently based in Alderley Park, Cheshire, and Granta Park, Cambridge, respectively, will be brought together in the new building, along with staff from the corporate headquarters in London. It is hoped that the combination and expected synergies will boost productivity and refresh Astrazeneca's jaded pipeline.

Astrazeneca announced the plan to relocate small-molecule R&D from Alderley Park to Cambridge, integrating it with biologics research carried out by Medimmune on March 18, as part of a wider restructuring of worldwide R&D. That will result in 1,600 jobs being cut and 2,500 roles relocated, as research is concentrated in Gaithersburg, Md.; Molndal, Sweden; and Cambridge, UK.

A number of different locations were scoped in the UK and elsewhere before Cambridge was picked. "Choosing Cambridge was a difficult decision because of the implications for other [existing] sites, with difficult messages to communicate, even though the vision is compelling," Pangalos said. "It was a difficult decision for the organization because of the rich heritage of Alderley Park," he told BioWorld Today.

Cambridge is a place that will enable Astrazeneca "to compete on a scientific level" and also has the advantage of being close to London and Oxford, UK, Pangalos noted. The Cambridge Biomedical Campus was chosen above Granta Park or other sites in the city because of its central location and the standing of the neighbors.

It is "critically important" that Astrazeneca creates a collaborative atmosphere that is porous and open, said Pangalos. "That's the spirit in which we are coming onto the area." The site will allow Astrazeneca "to design the building from the beginning to encourage the socialization of science" and cultivate "an environment of creativity and innovation." That would not be possible to achieve by building on Granta Park or Alderley Park.

There were no inducements from any local authority or economic development body, with the decision made purely on the basis of the benefits the Cambridge Biomedical Campus provides.

The new building will become Astrazeneca's largest site for oncology research, as well as being home to cardiovascular, metabolic, respiratory, inflammatory, autoimmune and central nervous system diseases research. The Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) is itself in the process of moving all its staff, equipment and facilities into a new £212 million purpose-built building on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. The facility, which has been partly funded by royalties from antibody technologies LMB has developed, is twice the size of its current home, with space for 440 scientists and 160 support staff.

When all the R&D staff have moved from Alderley Park, Astrazeneca will still employ 700 staff in other functions at the site. The company has put in place a task force to plan for the future, and three biotechs have announced they are taking up residence. "Hopefully, three more are coming in the not-too distant future – we are committed to leaving [Alderley Park] in as healthy a condition as we can," Pangalos said.