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Biotech Blossomed On The Charles In 2015

Research Hubs: At the same time, a new model grew on the Hudson

by Rick Mullin
December 7, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 48


Credit: Aerial by H. Ku/C&EN
Credit: Aerial by H. Ku/C&EN

Well-established regional biotech research hubs grew as magnets this year for companies looking to tap ecosystems in which academic and industrial science coexist.

No place illustrates that trend better than Boston, home to R&D centers of major drug companies such as Pfizer, Novartis, and Biogen as well as to huge academic and institutional research organizations.

Start-ups also come to the city, knowing they can draw on a pool of experienced scientists. This is reflected in data from the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, whose job postings for chemists have more than tripled since 2010.

Of course, not all is rosy. About 120 researchers were put on the job market this year when Merck & Co. closed early-stage research labs it had acquired with Cubist Pharmaceuticals. This was followed by AstraZeneca’s downsizing and spin-off of antibiotics R&D in nearby Lawrence, Mass.

Interviews with job hunters earlier this year indicated that most looking for work could find it in the vibrant pharma hub. Many, however, found work in different settings than the labs of well-established drug companies. These scientists often took positions at start-ups with entirely new work demands and a job risk profile different from what they were used to.

Meanwhile, Eli Lilly & Co. set up in the Boston hub this year with a drug delivery and device R&D lab and doubled its activity in San Diego, Boston’s major West Coast rival. The Indianapolis-based company says it is adding 16,300 m2 of space and 130 staffers at its facility there.

Lilly is also active in the nascent pharma/biotech hub in New York City. The Big Apple remains a dark horse among research hubs. Despite having a cluster of high-powered institutions and $1.4 billion in National Institutes of Health research funding, New York has not picked up the momentum enjoyed by Boston, San Diego, and San Francisco.

In recent years, the effort to pull something together has coalesced at the Alexandria Center for Life Science, a two-towered (soon to be three-towered) research facility on Manhattan’s East Side in which Lilly is the anchor tenant. Also housing Pfizer and Roche research facilities, the Alexandria Center is welcoming start-ups.

Other efforts under way in the city include the Tri-Institutional Therapeutics Discovery Institute, which last year deployed a team of researchers from Weill Cornell Medicine, Rockefeller University, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to work with visiting researchers from Takeda, the Japanese drug firm.

One of several industry-academic collaborations in the city, the institute distinguishes itself by providing industrial partners with lab space in which to collaborate, Michael A. Foley, its head, told C&EN in March. “As the ecosystem expands in the city,” he said, “the critical missing piece will be lab space.”


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