No­var­tis un­veils a new glob­al R&D struc­ture, cre­at­ing cen­ters in Cam­bridge, MA and Basel


No­var­tis is un­veil­ing some big new changes to its R&D or­ga­ni­za­tion to­day, fo­cus­ing heav­i­ly on new re­search op­er­a­tions based in Cam­bridge, MA as well as Basel while shut­ter­ing two units in Chi­na and Switzer­land and re­lo­cat­ing an­oth­er from Sin­ga­pore to the Bay Area.

Hot on the heels of its stun­ning de­ci­sion to shut down its cell and gene ther­a­py group while lay­ing off 120, the com­pa­ny plans to tell em­ploy­ees at town hall meet­ings lat­er to­day that it is es­tab­lish­ing a new ear­ly-stage op­er­a­tion along with the cre­ation of two new re­search cen­ters. Here’s a quick look at the over­all plan as out­lined by No­var­tis in re­sponse to a query from End­points News:

— The phar­ma gi­ant is set­ting up an ear­ly dis­cov­ery re­search group in Basel and Cam­bridge, MA, which it says will be “in­te­grat­ed with NI­BR’s drug dis­cov­ery teams around the world.” The Chem­i­cal Bi­ol­o­gy and Ther­a­peu­tics team will merge two ex­ist­ing teams and fo­cus on “har­ness­ing the pow­er of chem­i­cal bi­ol­o­gy and oth­er cut­ting edge tech­nolo­gies such as CRISPR, DNA-en­cod­ed li­braries and tar­get­ed pro­tein degra­da­tion to dis­cov­er new drug tar­gets. CBT will al­so in­clude teams fo­cused on path­way bi­ol­o­gy and high through­put screen­ing.”

— Two new “cen­ters of ex­cel­lence” for bio­ther­a­peu­tics re­search in Basel, Switzer­land and Cam­bridge, MA, USA will “ex­plore new di­rec­tions for de­liv­er­ing bi­o­log­ic ther­a­pies.” And the phar­ma gi­ant says that the de­vel­op­ment of those two cen­ters will force the clo­sure of a group in Shang­hai as well ES­BAT­e­ch, a bi­o­log­ics unit based in Schlieren, Switzer­land. Twen­ty to 25 new po­si­tions will be opened in the bi­o­log­ics cen­ter of ex­cel­lence in Basel.

— No­var­tis is al­so cre­at­ing a new re­search group fo­cus­ing on dis­cov­er­ing new med­i­cines for res­pi­ra­to­ry dis­eases while re­lo­cat­ing the No­var­tis In­sti­tute for Trop­i­cal Dis­eases (NITD) from Sin­ga­pore to Emeryville, CA.

Al­con ac­quired ES­BAT­e­ch and its an­ti­body frag­ment tech un­der the watch­ful eye of No­var­tis, which was com­plet­ing its own deal to ac­quire Al­con, back in 2009. That deal cost $150 mil­lion up­front plus an­oth­er $439 mil­lion in mile­stones. The group re­port­ed­ly has 73 staffers who are now be­ing axed.

“The Shang­hai Bi­o­log­ics group that is clos­ing has 18 peo­ple,” a spokesper­son for No­var­tis tells me via email. ” The re­lo­ca­tion of NITD pro­grams and op­er­a­tions to Emeryville will af­fect 84 peo­ple in Sin­ga­pore. In ad­di­tion to the 20-25 jobs that will be added in Basel for bi­o­log­ics, we will add jobs in Emeryville for NITD and in Cam­bridge for the Res­pi­ra­to­ry group. De­tails on Cam­bridge and Emeryville jobs are still be­ing worked out.”

No­var­tis still has big plans for Shang­hai, where it’s been build­ing a ma­jor R&D op­er­a­tion in the grow­ing Asian biotech hub.

NI­BR has a fa­cil­i­ty in Emeryville, just north of Oak­land in the Bay Area. And a whole group of Big Phar­mas have been con­cen­trat­ing their forces in the big re­search hubs like the San Fran­cis­co area, in­clud­ing Mer­ck and As­traZeneca. Cam­bridge, MA, mean­while, has al­so ben­e­fit­ed great­ly from the glob­al mi­gra­tion of Big Phar­ma to the big hubs, while Basel is home to the multi­na­tion­al com­pa­ny.

No­var­tis has been fo­cused on a shake­up for much of the year, dat­ing back to its de­ci­sion to carve out an on­col­o­gy group in May. No­var­tis shocked the 400 staffers at its cell and gene ther­a­py group re­cent­ly when it un­ex­pect­ed­ly an­nounced plans to lay off 120 and in­te­grate the re­main­ing play­ers in the can­cer re­search op­er­a­tions. The com­pa­ny is known for one of the biggest re­search bud­gets in bio­phar­ma, spend­ing $9 bil­lion last year on R&D. But it’s al­so well known for look­ing for greater ef­fi­cien­cies wher­ev­er they can be found.

That can make job se­cu­ri­ty a risky prospect at No­var­tis.

“Mov­ing the (No­var­tis In­sti­tute for Trop­i­cal Dis­eases) is re­al­ly in­tend­ed to em­pow­er the re­search through the strength of col­lab­o­ra­tive prox­im­i­ty,” NI­BR chief Jay Brad­ner told the lo­cal Sin­ga­pore press. No­var­tis doesn’t like to sim­ply fire work­ers, of­fer­ing some the chance to re­lo­cate or ap­ply for oth­er po­si­tions. But clear­ing the hur­dle be­tween Sin­ga­pore and the Bay Area couldn’t be easy.

This isn’t the first time that No­var­tis switched up its glob­al R&D struc­ture, and it like­ly won’t be the last. Big Phar­ma got re­al se­ri­ous about cut­ting back the head count and out­sourc­ing work sev­er­al years ago, and prac­ti­cal­ly all of them have tak­en the ax to their re­search or­ga­ni­za­tions. Giv­en the ane­mic flow of new drug ap­provals this year, there’s no rea­son to be­lieve that the pres­sure be­hind these changes is de­clin­ing at all.

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