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Novartis chooses Boston area as new research hub

Novartis is taking its research headquarters away from Basel


The Swiss pharmaceutical giant, Novartis, is to make the Boston area its new global hub for research in a bid to lure top scientific talent.

The company is to spend $250 million (SFr398 million) building a new institute, which will direct Novartis's global drug research. CEO Daniel Vasella said the location had been chosen because of its proximity to the "best medical researchers in the world".

Novartis has already poached Dr Mark Fishman, a Harvard professor, to head the new institute - called the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research (NIBR).

Novartis spokesman, Felix Raeber, told swissinfo the reason for the move was simply because: "For us, it's easier to recruit top scientists [in the US] than it is in Europe."

He added that Fishman had been head hunted because "He is based [in the Boston area], he is a celebrity there, and therefore he can really attract scientists."

Blow to Basel

The move is seen as a blow to the company's home base of Basel in Switzerland, which has until now directed global research.

Raeber admitted it would shift the emphasis to the US, but stressed that "Basel will remain a safe and good place to work for our scientists". Some 1,400 people work at the Basel research facility, which will remain the company's largest R&D site for the time being.

CEO Vasella confirmed that there were no plans to move any of the company's other activities to the US, and said the headquarters would remain firmly rooted in Basel.

The new centre will oversee all research activities in Europe, the United States and Japan. Around 400 scientists and technicians will work at the Kendall Square facility initially, but the company expects to employ up to 900 people there in the future.

New drugs

The Cambridge-based institute will focus on developing new drugs for diabetes, and cardiovascular and infectious diseases. The company expects about one third of the employees to come from Novartis' pharmaceutical production site in New Jersey.

Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy welcomed the company's decision, saying "Novartis' strong desire to be in Cambridge further strengthens Kendall Square as being the epicentre of the biotech world."

Cambridge has become a hub for biomedical research in recent years. The Whitehead Institute, an independent scientific powerhouse, has its centre nearby, while companies such Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Amgen and Biogen have also moved to Kendall Square.


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