Pfizer claims more R&D space in Cambridge, MA, settling into a biotech hotbed

Pfizer Cambridge's Michael Ehlers

Pfizer ($PFE), among the horde of drugmakers looking to Cambridge, MA, for innovation, is expanding its outpost in the city's Kendall Square neighborhood, planning to plant about 1,000 workers in what has become biotech's fastest-growing neighborhood.

The pharma giant has signed a lease with MIT to take over the full 500,000 square feet of the school's space at 610 Main St., in the heart of Kendall Square. Pfizer signed a 10-year lease on 180,000 square feet of the same building last year, and now the company has chosen the spot to be its Cambridge research headquarters. The plan is to create a unified Pfizer campus, and the expanded operation will allow the company to consolidate three other leased spaces in town.

The facility's research charge will remain the same, focusing on rare diseases, metabolic disorders, immunology and neuroscience, Pfizer said. But its address--within reach of world-class research institutions and an expanding group of promising biotech startups--will make all the difference, said Michael Ehlers, head of Pfizer Cambridge.

"We are creating an expansive research facility that will allow for stronger collaborations in the Boston/Cambridge bioscience community and open new doors to unique partnerships," Ehlers said in a statement. "As researchers, we work every day to advance the science that creates new transformative medicines for patients in need. By bringing together some of the greatest minds in the industry in an open and flexible environment, we believe we will be poised now more than ever to help accelerate discovery, incubate innovation in creative ways, and increase the pace of innovation."

The same thinking has driven more than a dozen multinational drug companies to move in on Kendall Square, drawn by the promise of collaborative R&D and the potential for transformational deals. Most recently, Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) signed on to be the anchor tenant at a new facility, following Eli Lilly ($LLY) and Baxalta ($BXLT), which recently announced R&D hubs of their own in the area. They join an entrenched group of drugmakers already working in the neighborhood, including Novartis ($NVS), Biogen ($BIIB) and Sanofi ($SNY).

More and more of the world's biggest pharma companies are abandoning the old way of doing R&D, in far-flung suburban campuses, in favor of cozying up to startups and academics in urban areas. But there are only so many top-tier biotech clusters in the world, and the increase in demand has naturally led to a spike in the cost of a square foot of lab space. Some in the startup world worry that Big Pharma's surging interest in places like Cambridge could eventually price out the nimble innovators that drew it there in the first place, concerns Alexandria Real Estate ($ARE), a magnate in biotech property, says are unfounded.

- read the statement