NJ’s Pain is NY’s Gain as Roche Christens Manhattan Collaboration Hub

10/1/13Follow @benthefidler

When Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche decided to shut down its Nutley, NJ, research facility last year, it took a few thousand jobs and eight decades of history along with it. But as it turns out, Roche hasn’t abandoned the East Coast altogether—it just moved back into Manhattan, which it called home before its move to the Garden State all those years ago.

Roche is opening up what it’s calling the Translational and Clinical Research Center, a new facility that will occupy the 419,000-square-foot West Tower of the Alexandria Center For Life Science, which overlooks Manhattan’s East River.

The center is meant to serve as a collaborative hub for Roche in New York City, a conduit for the drugmaker to form partnerships by tapping into the network of research institutions along the city’s East Corridor—where Mount Sinai Medical Center, Rockefeller University, Columbia University, and many others reside. Roche will officially move into the Alexandria Center on Jan. 2.

“A third of our products on the market today come from third parties,” said Roche chairman Franz Humer. “The [center] will have to play a major role as the hub of creating, maintaining, and fostering these partnerships.”

In a way, Roche is coming full circle with the move. It set up its first U.S. headquarters in Manhattan in 1905 before moving out of the city and into Nutley, creating a sprawling site that once employed more than 3,000 people and served as the base of its U.S. operations.

Things changed, however, in 2009. Roche paid billions for Genentech and moved its U.S. base out to the South San Francisco, CA-based biotech’s headquarters.

Roche then turned the Nutley site into a research facility, before ultimately deciding to close it in June 2012 as part of an organizational restructuring.

At the time, Roche insisted that it wanted to keep an East Coast presence, just of a different variety. Its goal was to instead create a roughly 250-employee center somewhere on the East Coast focusing on translational research, while shipping out drug projects taking place in Nutley to other research centers overseas.

But rather than pack up and head to someplace like Boston, the largest biotech cluster out East, Roche decided to move back into Manhattan to stay close to the city’s big network of research institutions—a suggestion initially made by New York Sen. Charles Schumer, Humer said Tuesday.

So Roche ended up with its new research center, a facility with about 200 employees—to start, Humer stressed—charged with finding collaborative partners for discovery platforms and drug prospects. It’s part of Roche’s pharma research and early development organization, which also has outlets in Europe and China. Roche’s new Manhattan center will be headed by Judith Dunn, who has held positions in the commercial and research divisions of Pfizer.

The center’s opening continues some momentum for Manhattan’s life sciences ecosystem . The Alexandria Center for Life Science already houses labs for ImClone Systems and Pfizer. Just two weeks ago, the New York Genome Center—a collaborative effort between many of Manhattan’s research institutions—opened up on the island’s West Side.

Entities such as Harlem Biospace and Keystone for Incubating Innovation in Life Sciences — NYC are trying to fashion incubators, and bring affordable lab space to potential startups in the area. And Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, which put $5 million towards building the Genome Center, has also put cash into the development of a startup incubator at the Brooklyn Army Terminal.

Ben Fidler is Xconomy's Deputy Biotechnology Editor. You can e-mail him at bfidler@xconomy.com Follow @benthefidler

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