AstraZeneca arrays academic assets in Pfizer defense

Sun May 18, 2014 6:28am EDT
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By Sara Ledwith

CAMBRIDGE, England (Reuters) - 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 defense 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 group.

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 emphasizing 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 revitalize 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 centers like Boston and San Francisco, but none have undertaken such a wholesale move of operations.

While Pfizer says it will complete the planned research center 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.   Continued...

A sign is seen at an AstraZeneca site in Macclesfield, central England April 28, 2014. REUTERS/Darren Staples