GlaxoSmithKline dispatching R&D teams to new satellites in Cambridge, San Diego

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) is broadening its reach in the big U.S. R&D field in coming months, ramping up satellite innovation centers in Cambridge, MA, and San Diego where its teams can shepherd a growing flock of research partnerships while hunting down new technologies and spawning biotech startups.

GSK has a big U.S. presence in the Philadelphia area as well as Research Triangle Park, NC. But like its Big Pharma rivals, the company is drawn to the big biotech hubs, where entrepreneurs are ramping up new companies and investigators are pursuing cutting-edge technologies. Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), for example, has been setting up its own teams in Cambridge, MA, San Francisco, London and Shanghai, along with satellite offices around the globe.  

The U.K.-based GSK is organizing a satellite office in San Diego, where Damien McDevitt will head an R&D team of 5 to 10 staffers. GSK's venture arm SR One already has a presence in San Francisco, but GSK spokesperson Melinda Stubbee notes that this is the company's first R&D office in California.

"I am coming to this role from business development at GSK and the office will have a strong BD focus, working with partners across biotechs, venture, academia and pharma. One of the key drivers for this hub is to enhance our strategic discovery collaboration with Avalon Ventures as we build up to 10 biotech companies together in San Diego," McDevitt noted in an email.

Avalon announced just days ago that it is launching the first of those upstarts--Sitari--in the $495 million collaboration it has with GSK. Avalon's Managing Director Jay Lichter plans to launch an average of one new company per quarter. 

McDevitt noted that GSK has more than 20 collaborations underway with a group of West Coast biotechs that includes Theravance ($THRX), FivePrime Therapeutics and Isis ($ISIS). And the pharma giant is also closely involved with Sanderling Ventures, investing $50 million in its latest fund for West Coast ventures.

The Cambridge, MA, office is being set up in the heart of the hub, right on Kendall Square, where another team of business development staffers and scientists will explore the early-stage work being done in the region. In recent years the greater Boston area, and Cambridge in particular, has emerged as one of the world's busiest hubs, with investigators at MIT and Harvard helping launch new companies as pharma operations ranging from Sanofi to Novartis boost their R&D ranks.

"Our goal is to access innovation where it's happening," noted a recent GSK blog post. "Becoming more a part of the local east and west coast ecosystems of VCs, biotechs, and academics, we think will make us a partner of choice."