Roche blueprints a sprawling $1.8B R&D complex for pRED

They're building a new home for John Reed and Roche's ($RHHBY) pRED research group in Basel--and the pharma giant is thinking big. Roche said today that it is committing $1.8 billion to build a new research center in Switzerland that will encompass four new office and lab buildings to house 1,900 R&D staffers.

The first step of the process will involve construction of an in vivo center for animal research, slated for completion in 2018. And Roche--the top R&D spender in the world with a 2013 budget of $10.3 billion--plans to clear away older buildings to make way for a new office tower as part of a wider building plan that will cost a total of $3.2 billion.

Roche's ambitious building plans mark a new chapter for its European R&D operations. The company shuttered a big complex in Nutley, NJ, in 2012, moving a group of 240 survivors into Manhattan and laying off more than 1,000 staffers. U.S. R&D was left largely in the hands of Genentech--or gRED--in California, which has been pursuing an aggressive effort to develop new cancer therapies. John Reed, the former head of Sanford-Burnham, was tapped to turn around the flop-prone pRED, which manages the Manhattan group along with other sites scattered in Europe and based in Basel. And over the last two years pRED has been executing a series of R&D deals aimed at producing a new wave of products.

The building plans at least in part are aimed at reassuring Swiss officials of Roche's commitment to the country. Switzerland has faced some tough issues around its restrictive rules on immigrant workers.

"Roche is committed long-term to Switzerland and to Basel in its dual role as corporate headquarters and one of our most important sites worldwide," said Roche CEO Severin Schwan. "The entire value chain is represented in Basel. Employees from all parts of the company are making a vital contribution to Roche's innovative strength, and we want to provide them with an attractive work environment. The new buildings will continue Roche's tradition of elegant, distinctive and functional architecture."

CEO Schwan has been overseeing construction of one office tower that's 50 stories and 580 feet tall and slated to open up next year. In addition to being more energy efficient, Roche says that its new buildings will be designed to facilitate communication among workers, a likely tip that the design will be centered around the popular (with management, anyway) use of open spaces.

FierceBiotech asked Roche if the new R&D facilities would affect staffing at pRED at some point, but a spokesperson dodged the query.

- here's the release