BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Going against the current trend, UCB Pharma is to close its U.S. research facility and move the work to Europe, as it reorganizes its research and development in the wake of the £1.5 billion (US$2.7 billion) acquisition of Celltech Group plc.

The facility in Cambridge, Mass., where 86 staff members are employed, will shut in October. Certain small-molecule research carried out there in central nervous system disorders, pharmacology, inflammation and immunology, will be transferred to UCB Pharma's existing research and development center in Braine-l'Allend, Belgium, and to the former Celltech site in Cambridge, UK.

Following the consolidation, UCB Pharma will have 1,400 research and development employees, spread across Braine-l'Allend; Cambridge, UK; and the former Celltech headquarters in Slough, UK.

The decision is in contrast to current sentiment in European biotechnology, which increasingly sees a U.S. research presence as a compulsory requirement. Earlier this year the vaccines group Acambis plc shifted its research and development from Cambridge, UK, to Cambridge, Mass.

A UCB spokeswoman told BioWorld International: "As far as R&D goes, the other facilities are fully invested in, with the right therapeutic focus. The U.S. facility was not in a state to go on to the next stage."

The cost of closing the U.S. unit was not disclosed, but UCB Pharma said it would be less than the synergies that should result from it.

"The big point is there is no net loss [of research activities]," the spokeswoman said. "All the R&D will be redistributed across the company." UCB Pharma promised a total savings of €100 million (US$120.4 million) from the overall process of integrating UCB Pharma and Celltech.

The three European centers will focus on antibodies and small molecules in the therapeutic areas of CNS, inflammation and immunology. Before the acquisition of Celltech, UCB Pharma had 1,000 research and development staff in its 6,600-strong work force, and a research and development budget of €244 million per annum, while Celltech had 450 R&D staff and a £106 million R&D budget.

The architect of the new structure, Melanie Lee, head of R&D, said, "The [changes] will enable us to maximize the impact of our R&D budget by redeploying financial resources to accelerate development of our promising pipeline."

About 45 percent of the combined revenues of UCB Pharma and Celltech come from the U.S., and the company will retain its U.S. clinical development, manufacturing, and sales and marketing facilities, including the former Celltech site in Rochester, N.Y.

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