Expanding The Discovery Channel

Dec. 21, 2004
Additional R&D labs at AstraZeneca in Waltham, Mass., promise to aid in development of cancer and infectious disease drugs.

Three thousand miles west of its corporate headquarters in London, England, pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca PLC is expanding its R&D presence in the New England city of Waltham, Mass., 11 miles west of Boston. The addition of 80,000 square feet of laboratory and office space brings the state-of-the-art Waltham research facility, opened in 2000, to 250,000 square feet. The physical expansion, which was inaugurated on Oct. 23, 2003, is expected to add more than 100 new science and research jobs to the local economy. AstraZeneca's presence in the Boston area dates back to the early 1990s when Astra, one of the $17.8 billion drugmaker's two legacy companies, sought a site outside its native Sweden to do research. "What drew us to the [Boston] area was not just the biotech cluster and the labor pool, but also the academic institutions, the fine hospitals and the overall technology base that is here as well," says John Hennessy, site manager of AstraZeneca R&D Boston, as the company's 64-acre campus is formally known. Today the site is one of nine R&D centers that the company -- probably best known to the public for the gastrointestinal medication Nexium -- has around the world. Of the approximate 400 people on the campus, about 300 are researchers. Much of the work being done at Waltham is the initial laboratory-based research (known within AstraZeneca as discovery-phase research) that precedes clinical trials on humans. "We have an infectious disease unit, and they're focusing on broad-spectrum anti-microbials, which would most typically be used in hospital-based settings," explains Hennessy. And "we have a cancer research group, and they are focusing on the major solid tumors -- breast, lung, prostate and colon," he adds. Significantly, the Waltham campus also includes one of AstraZeneca's three Enabling Science, Technology and Information centers. In simplest terms, it is a place where scientists work at computers, not at lab benches, to support not only the cancer and infectious disease researchers elsewhere at Waltham, but researchers at any of the other eight company research sites around the globe. The people who work in the center devise data mining tools and other computer applications that allow researchers to use and manage vast collections of information like the human genome map, says Hennessy. They may design a computer-based tools or buy software and integrate it into AstraZeneca's research sites. AstraZeneca has more than 11,000 R&D employees worldwide and invests more than $3.1 billion annually in the discovery and development of improved medicines.

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