Lilly upgrades its NYC research hub, adding 50 jobs in an immuno-oncology push

Lilly R&D chief Jan Lundberg

Eli Lilly ($LLY) is upsizing its New York City R&D outpost, planning to add 50 new jobs and take up more lab space with a particular focus on immuno-oncology.

Lilly is an anchor tenant at Alexandria Real Estate's ($ARE) Center for Life Science on the east side of Manhattan, a towering campus also home to Roche ($RHHBY), Pfizer ($PFE) and others. The drugmaker now plans to lease another 30,000 square feet at the site, expecting its new space to come online next year. The expansion will include what Lilly's calling a translational immuno-oncology hub, serving as a conduit for development in one of the fastest-growing spaces in cancer research and a lightning rod for collaborations with local academics and startups.

The move follows a string of R&D expansions on Lilly's part, including plans for a facility in Cambridge, MA's biotech hotbed of Kendall Square and additions to its existing outpost in San Diego.

Lilly's deeper dive into immuno-oncology is in part an effort to catch up with some of its rivals in the quickly evolving space. Lilly has been outpaced by Merck ($MRK), Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) and others in the race to commercialize cancer therapies that use the power of the immune system to fight tumors, but the company is now redoubling its efforts to build a pipeline of next-generation therapies.

"Going forward, immuno-oncology research will focus on new ways to harness the immune system and on combination therapies with targeted agents," R&D chief Jan Lundberg said in a statement. "Cancer is a complex disease. Our diverse research approach and expansion in New York will ultimately put us in a strong position to advance the delivery of innovative medicines to patients."

Lilly first took up residence at Alexandria's campus in 2010. In the ensuing years, Roche abandoned its sprawling New Jersey research site for a major presence on the same grounds, and Pfizer sited one of its global Centers for Therapeutic Innovation next door.

Alexandria--and, by extension, New York City--has found success recruiting major pharma players to the area, but replicating the startup climate that has made Cambridge such a popular R&D destination has proved more difficult. In an effort to incubate smaller players, Alexandria has backed an outfit called Accelerator, a Seattle-based venture investor that has taken a keen interest in New York's biotech scene. And Lilly, alongside fellow local Celgene ($CELG), joined a government-backed effort to invest $150 million in the city's nascent biotech cluster.

- read the statement