Little expense has been spared thanks to the giant glass and steel structure that springs from once vacant land on the outskirts of Cambridge .
AstraZeneca's new £ 1 billion research and development center is home to 16 laboratories and 2,200 scientists, making it Britain's largest science laboratory along with the Francis Crick Institute in London , and the pharmaceutical company's largest single-site investment to date.
Designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, the Discovery Center (Disc) covers an area the size of eight football fields and is part of the largest biomedical cluster in Europe. Cambridge University, two hospitals and hundreds of research institutes and biotechnology companies are nearby. The building is flooded with natural light, captures its heat from the ground below, and its toilets are rinsed with rainwater.
In one of the laboratories, a drop the The size of a pinhead is exposee - a mini beating heart used to test all new drugs for their safety and impact on the heart. On the next bench, scientists Kainat Khan and Mark Anderton developed a "bone marrow on a chip" that assesses the toxicity and side effects of cancer drugs, to help clinicians mitigate the impact by changing the dose, eg.
This is exactly the kind of investment politicians are desperate to attract to Britain. Chancellor Rishi Sunak used his Conservative Party conference speech last month to describe a vision of Britain as a "science superpower". AstraZeneca became a household name during the pandemic when it partnered with the University of Oxford to develop a Covid-19 vaccine and supplied it at cost worldwide, although he recently started signing commercial contracts to provide the vaccine next year as the virus enters its "endemic" phase.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, attended the inauguration of the Cambridge center on Tuesday, with Prince Charles and AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot and Chairman Leif Johansson.
Still, everything could have been so different. Almost exactly eight years ago to the day, Johansson received a phone call from Ian Read , CEO of US rival Pfizer, who told him he wanted to discuss a merger between the two companies.
Only intense political pressure - and Pfizer 's miscalculation of the fallout - allowed the company too-Swedish from push back l 'unwanted approach of £ 69 billion and in May 2014 Pfizer left. AstraZeneca had the support of the government, the public and the British scientific community, but then had to prove to everyone that it could stand on its own feet.
Soriot, who has run the company since 2012, said during the takeover battle that a deal would endanger lives by delay the development of life-saving anticancer drugs . Read rejected this as a "Red herring but admitted that the acquisition would result in job cuts and reduced research expensese.
Susan Galbraith, who heads oncology R&D at AstraZeneca, is adamant about the benefits of being an independent business. "This is our commitment not only for the next two to three to four years, but for the next 20 to 30 to 40 years of science and R&D as the heart of the business," she said. . “I am very happy that we remain an independent company, able to respond to this vision and this mission.
Disc is one of AstraZeneca 's three main R&D centers, alongside those in Gaithersburg, Maryland in the United States and Gothenburg in Sweden. Soriot had already picked the land himself and the site was acquired in 2013, but few believe Pfizer would have continued the investment had it bought the British drugmaker.
"We have come a long way since that time, but you must win vur independence and that 's what we are doing, "says Galbraith.
Susannah Streeter, Senior Investment and Markets Analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, says: “It seems unlikely that if Pfizer had succeeded in buying AstraZeneca in 2014, there are plans of this magnitude would have even been put forward let alone carried out.
"Its probable expansion would have been concentrated not in Cambridge, England, but in Cambridge , Massachusetts, where Pfizer's Global Therapeutics Center is based, with a focus on rare diseases and immunology, an increasingly important part of the portfolio. The goal is to create the densest biomedical community in the world - so it is likely that the two Cambridge locations will continue to be rivals in the pharmaceutical race, with Moderna also based in the city just outside. from Boston. "
After battling Pfizer, Soriot, a scientist who previously worked at Swiss drugmaker Roche and Genentech in San Francisco, set out to rebuild AstraZeneca lio 's phased drug portfolio, to replace blockbuster drugs with expiring patents, including the cholesterol drug Crestor. The company injects £ 7 billion into R&D each year, which equates to 22% of sales, one of the highest proportions among pharmaceutical companies.
"There is a fundamental belief that science and R&D are the future of business," says Galbraith. West London, where AstraZeneca's big British rival GlaxoSmithKline is based, they learned this lesson belatedly. After years of cutting research spending, GSK Managing Director Emma Walmsley has stepped up R&D spending, but GSKstill lags behind AstraZeneca and other competitors.
AstraZeneca at one point in April 2020 became the largest company in the FTSE 100 and is now worth £ 132 billion versus £ 77 billion for GSK.
Soriot's motto is 'we follow science', and Galbraith echoes it. to that when she talks about "understanding the science behind the disease".
"We focus on quality, good patient selection is an essential part of this. "She recalls how Lynparza for ovarian cancer, which helped AstraZeneca's turnaround, was almost discontinued. " Now that's a really big drug for us, because he's identified the good patients to treat. "
Likewise, Tagrisso, for non-small cell lung cancer, targets a specific mutation and has become one.of its best sellers, and is the fastest drug ever developed. Overall, since 2005, the company has achieved an almost six-fold improvement in the proportion of molecules moving from preclinical investigation to completion of advanced clinical trials, from 4% to 23%, well above the industry success rate of 14%.
This has led to better financial performance, and the company is on track to meet its sales target of $ 40 billion (£ 30 billion), set in 2014 at the height of the battle for control, by 2022 - a year ahead of schedule.