AstraZeneca picks Cambridge site as ground zero for R&D reinvention

AstraZeneca's new management team has zeroed in on an 11-acre spread at the Cambridge BioMedical Campus as the home for its new R&D center and corporate headquarters. Over the next three years the pharma company ($AZN) plans to build a $500 million complex on its new campus that will house its U.K. operations for biologics and small molecule research as well as the corporate staff now operating in London.

AZ CEO Pascal Soriot

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot has laid out the U.K. relocation as a central feature of his ambitious restructuring plan, which is aimed at wiping the slate clean of a troubled R&D strategy that has left the company's pipeline dangerously weakened as generic competition mounts against key drug franchises. Soriot is moving R&D workers from the company's big facility in Alderley Park to Cambridge so they can get closer to the cutting-edge scientific work being done in the hub. And Soriot has been moving other pieces on the global R&D chess board as well, concentrating efforts at Medimmune in Maryland and in Sweden as well.

While the offices are being relocated, Soriot and his R&D team have also been executing a slate of new moves from the preclinical field straight through to late-stage development. In addition to buying Pearl Therapeutics and its COPD pipeline for up to $1.15 billion, AstraZeneca also recently snapped up Omthera's omega-3 cardio program in a $443 million buyout. But its lean selection of high-profile late-stage efforts have also continued to founder, with the company dumping its work recently on the rheumatoid arthritis drug fostamatinib after another round of dismal Phase III data.  

The Cambridge move puts AstraZeneca next door to some big players like the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, Addenbrooke's Hospital, the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, the Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science and the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute. The hope is that some of their best ideas can migrate to AstraZeneca, which needs all the help it can get at this stage.

"Cambridge competes on the global stage as a respected innovation hub for life sciences and our choice of site puts us at the heart of this important ecosystem, providing valuable collaboration opportunities," Soriot said in a statement today. "Moving to the Cambridge Biomedical Campus means our people will be able to rub shoulders with some of the world's best scientists and clinicians carrying out some of the world's leading research – that's a really exciting prospect. We hope that our move will contribute to the growing success of Cambridge."

AstraZeneca--which has been spending more than $5 billion a year on R&D--is far from alone in choosing a hub strategy for R&D. Pfizer ($PFE), Roche ($RHHBY), Merck KGaA and others have been shuttering some storied R&D centers while restructuring and moving staffers into big research centers. Merck ($MRK), meanwhile, has begun to reorganize its R&D management structure to fit better with Roger Perlmutter's new plans for the pharma giant after taking over as head of research.

- here's the press release

Special Reports: AstraZeneca - Biopharma's Top R&D Spenders - 2012 | Pascal Soriot - The 25 most influential people in biopharma today - 2013