AstraZeneca unveils plans for Cambridge headquarters

AstraZeneca has revealed the proposed designs for its new global R&D centre and corporate headquarters in Cambridge in the UK.

The unveiling of the plans for an ambitious, purpose built headquarters coincided with the hottest day of the year so far in the UK, lending the media launch a relaxed, low-key atmosphere.

This is in stark contrast to the period of frenzied activity in May, when AstraZeneca fought tooth and nail to repel a takeover bid by Pfizer.

AstraZeneca succeeded in thwarting Pfizer’s takeover plans – but was forced to promise investors that it could deliver very rapid growth – forecasting revenues of $45 billion by 2023, compared to $25.7 billion last year.

This means the new R&D headquarters – combined with AZ’s other research centres in Gaithersburg in the US (where biologics division MedImmune is located) and Mölndal in Sweden – will have to deliver on the promise of its pipeline.

Many predict that Pfizer will return in the coming months with an improved bid for the company, and the takeover may still go ahead – but there seems to be a genuine will within the company to stay independent.

The press launch of the Cambridge plans also coincided with news that another UK based company – speciality pharma company Shire – had agreed to a takeover from AbbVie, a deal fuelled by the same ‘tax inversion’ tactic Pfizer were hoping to exploit.

Mene Panaglos, head of innovative medicines and early development at AstraZeneca, unveiling the plans made it clear that he was looking ahead to an independent future for the firm, mused on the possibility of US politicians closing down the route which currently allows US companies to switch domiciles to evade taxes.

Relocation – R&D disruption?

Pangalos did concede that a relocation would bring disruption to the company’s scientists – but nothing on the scale of a takeover – and said the firm was focused on making the switch as smooth as possible.

The company has already begun the process of re-locating, around 70 research staff having already moved to Cambridge from Macclesfield in the north west of England. Staff from its commercial HQ will move from London by 2016 when the new building will be complete.

The company is keen to stress that science is at the heart of their operations, and the new purpose-built labs and offices– will be separated only by glass walls, creating ‘visible science’. AstraZeneca says the aim is to make scientific innovation the primary focus for all staff, both in R&D and other functions.

The new global HQ, located in the heart of the city on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus (CBC), is also intended to be a hub for external collaborations and partnerships – now seen as a vital ingredient in all big pharma R&D strategies.

To see pictures of the proposed buildings, visit the AZ website.

AstraZeneca has announced a string of new alliances with external partners this year, including a number of major alliances with leading academic groups.

Most notable of these is a long-term deal with the UK’s government funded Medical Research Council. The AstraZeneca MRC UK Centre for Lead Discovery will sit within the new AstraZeneca site at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus and see AstraZeneca and MRC-supported researchers working side-by-side.

The company wants to not only respect the R&D ecosystem, but also the built environment of Cambridge and the environment, resulting in a low rise building with many eco-features, such as “green roofs” across the site.

Mene Pangalos said: “Our aim is to create an open, welcoming and vibrant centre that will inspire our teams and partners to push the boundaries of scientific innovation.”

The new site will bring together AstraZeneca’s small molecule and biologics research and development activity, the biologics research and protein engineering carried out by MedImmune being carried out alongside the small molecule work of AstraZeneca.

It will be many years before the value or otherwise of the relocation can be evaluated – much closer are the late-stage drugs which could lift AstraZeneca’s prospects, which have sagged badly in recent years as older blockbuster such as Nexium and Seroquel reach patent expiry.

Two notable late-stage drugs are olaparib, now showing promise in several tumour types, and MEDI4736, a new immunotherapy anti-PD-L1 antibody which has been accelerated into phase 3 trials for non-small cell lung cancer.

AstraZeneca – and those shareholders who have backed its bid for independence against Pfizer’s interest – will be banking on these molecules in the next few years to provide a platform for the firm’s future growth.


AstraZeneca and MRC to create new centre for early drug discovery in UK

Don't miss your daily pharmaphorum news.
SUBSCRIBE free here.