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Novartis to Build Worldwide Research Hub in Cambridge, Mass., Looking to Hire 400 Researchers

SAN FRANCISCO, May 7 - Novartis yesterday announced plans to build a new center based in Cambridge, Mass., as its hub for worldwide research.


The Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research is slated to bring approximately 400 researchers, mostly through new hiring, to the Bostonarea beginning in the first quarter of 2003, Paul Herrling, head of global research for pharma at Novartis, told GenomeWeb.


"I expect that some people will come from other [Novartis] research centers but not that many, and the great majority of people who will be working in this area will be new recruits," said Herrling. "And that is one of the reasons we're here [in Cambridge], because we think that for biomedical scientists and medicinal chemists this is a great environment to recruit into and from."


Novartis, based in Basel, Switzerland, has committed $250 million as an initial investment in the research center, and has leased 255,000 square feet of wet lab-ready buildings on

Kendall Square
from MIT.


"Our establishment of NIBRI in Cambridge, in the midst of one of the world's most impressive pools of scientific talent and academic institutions, will help attract the best researchers and increase research productivity by capitalizing on the vast increase in therapeutic targets stemming from the sequencing of the human genome," said Daniel Vasella, CEO of Novartis.


Mark Fishman, a cardiology researcher known for his work using the Zebra fish as a model organism and until recently a professor of medicine at HarvardMedicalSchool, will head the research facility as its president.


Fishman will "take his technology and his fish with him," according to Herrling, who will assume the role of head of corporate research.


The new center will focus on developing drugs for diabetes, cardiovascular and infectious diseases via an array of technologies, including high throughput screening, imaging, robotics and nanotechnology. Informatics will link all of the efforts together.


"The one important element that will be here and will be built up is the knowledge management informatics tool," said Herrling. "You can imagine if you industrialize part of your drug discovery process you generate a huge amount of data, which needs to be handled in the correct format and you need to be able to find it again and be able to interpret it. So informatics, bioinformatics, chemoinformatics, and knowledge management are all technologies that will be built up here."


To do so, the center will hire between 60 and 100 people to develop and manage informatics, said Herrling. This effort will be directed by Manuel Pietsch, head of research information management at Novartis.


Compugen will assist in setting up the facilities informatics, said Herrling.


Other hires will include biologists, array specialists, and chemists.


"There will be all the disciplines," said Herrling. "You can't have a functional genomics person. Usually it's someone who starts in genetics or biology; you have people who specialize in chips, antisense, RNA, then the model organism people: fish people, fly people, yeast people, mouse people, and so on. All these disciplines will be represented here. And the chemistry disciplines will be represented."


New technologies developed at the center will be rolled out worldwide to Novartis' other research centers, said Herrling.


The number of jobs at the Cambridgesite will increase, he predicted.


"It will start around 300 to 400 [people] and then it will grow based on success."


Novartis' largest research facility currently is in Baselwith 1,200 people.


"If we move [the Cambridgesite] to 900 [people] it will be about similar," Herrling pointed out.


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