| CAMBRIDGE, England
CAMBRIDGE, England May 18 Rising up from the
fields around the university city of Cambridge, the steel towers
of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, are scientific pillars
in the defence that drugs group AstraZeneca is mounting against
a takeover approach by its U.S. rival Pfizer.
The lab's four towers - clearly visible from arriving trains
- help keep vibrations and noise away from highly sensitive
equipment. Scientists who work there have said it is "simply too
dangerous" to let AstraZeneca be bought by the American
AstraZeneca plans to move its own research and corporate
headquarters to the plot next door to the lab, which has earned
10 Nobel prizes. The company is emphasising a strategic research
alliance it has agreed with the laboratory's owner, the publicly
funded Medical Research Council (MRC). AstraZeneca says it wants
the relationship to be symbiotic.
The group - subject of a $100 billion-plus bid approach from
Pfizer - hopes the collaboration can help accelerate the
development of new, ground-breaking drugs and revitalise its
business, placing it at the core of a growing cluster of
expertise around Cambridge.
The site is due to be completed in 2016. Other large
drugmakers have built research outposts in Cambridge and U.S.
life science centres like Boston and San Francisco, but none
have undertaken such a wholesale move of operations.
While Pfizer says it will complete the planned research
centre if it buys AstraZeneca, it has not said how many staff it
will have in Cambridge or elsewhere.
AstraZeneca's Cambridge ambitions go further than simply
relocating its scientists and top management in a leading
university town. Under the deal with the MRC, the drugmaker will
give academics access to more than two million molecules in
AstraZeneca's compound library, which they can develop as they
will, giving AstraZeneca first refusal on any potential drugs.
"This is what I've always asked for," said Hugh Pelham,
director of the biology lab, which is known as MRC LMB.
The arrangement will appeal to scientists' professional
ambitions, by encouraging research for publication in scientific
journals, "crossing the road between academia and industry" and
even stimulating some to start their own companies, he told
visiting journalists last week.
CYCLING TO WORK
When it comes to sparking great scientific ideas, much
depends on human connections which have been years in the
making, Pelham said.
AstraZeneca's small existing biotech operation in Cambridge,
known as MedImmune, has roots going back 25 years to the time
when a scientist-led company, Cambridge Antibody Technology, was
spun out from the big MRC biology lab.
"There are people there that we know. People are married to
people there," Pelham said. Being near to each other - cycling
to work together - is a "very significant cultural feature of
More than 1,600 firms have been created as a result of
collaborations between academia and the private sector in
Cambridge, and the university's 4.9 billion pounds ($8.25
billion) collective endowment is Europe's largest.
AstraZeneca's collaboration with MRC LMB will help Cambridge
compete for pharmaceutical innovation, said Mene Pangalos,
AstraZeneca's Executive Vice President, Innovative Medicines &
The company's new headquarters, designed to have multiple
entrances, will be "very porous and very permeable to the
academic community" and look in onto a courtyard like one of the
city's historic colleges, he added. Academic and corporate
scientists will work side by side, with perhaps only the logos
on their lab coats to distinguish them.
Pangalos, who previously worked at Pfizer, avoided comparing
the two companies' approach. But he said AstraZeneca was centred
now on science-driven innovation, and a collaborative approach.
"This takes years of relationship building and it's also
quite fragile," Pangalos added. "If you destabilise that - turn
it on its head - I think that will have a huge detrimental
effect on the UK."
($1 = 0.5942 British Pounds)
(Additional reporting by Ben Hirschler; editing by Anna