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Cambridge, MIT are magnets for biotech

The decision of pharmaceutical giant Novartis to move its research center into Technology Square in Cambridge, Mass. is confirmation of the status of this small city of 101,000 as a world magnet for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. The heart of the biotech/pharmaceutical area is the circle of development around MIT. Up the Charles River is Harvard University; across the river are Boston's famed hospitals.
Of the top 25 biotechnology research and development firms in Massachusetts, 14 are in Cambridge, according to the 2002 Boston Business Journal Book of Lists.

Thirteen of those firms have bought or leased space within a mile of MIT and affiliated institutions, such as the Whitehead Institute and the MIT-Whitehead Human Genome Center. Those 13 firms account for two-thirds--or $1.175 billion--of R&D spending by the top 25 biotechnology firms.

Altogether, Cambridge has 60 biotech/pharmaceutical companies that are members of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council.

Fifty-two of these cutting-edge Cambridge firms have settled within a mile of MIT--36 firms near Central Square, 13 in the Kendall Square area and two in East Cambridge.

At least 21 of the 60 Cambridge firms have licensed technology from MIT or were founded by MIT alumni or faculty. These firms include Biogen, Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Ariad Pharmaceuticals, Genzyme, Alkermes and Biopure, all of which were included in the Boston Business Journal's top 25 R&D biotech firms list.


Technology Square, the future home of the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research, played a key role in Cambridge's high-tech development. In the 1960s, MIT and the real estate firm Cabot, Cabot and Forbes responded to the request of Mayor Edward A. Crane and used private money to convert a former soap factory into Technology Square, one of Cambridge's first large-scale commercial real estate developments. MIT sold its interest in 1973 and repurchased it in 2001. It is again part of MIT's investment portfolio.


Nationally, MIT has been important in generating entrepreneurial scientists, engineers and managers who have founded biotech companies. A 1996 MIT study of the biotech industry found that nine of the 10 best-selling biotech drugs in 1994 were developed by companies that were founded or co-founded by MIT alumni or faculty. The drugs developed by Amgen, Biogen and Genentech treat heart attacks, cancer, leukemia, viruses, infections from chemotherapy, infectious diseases, AZT treatment of AIDS, anemia, diabetes, hepatitis, growth hormone deficiency, Kaposi's sarcoma and other diseases.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 8, 2002.

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