Glaxo forming biotech center The unit will conduct research in U. Merion and in England. The firm will not hire or build for it.

Posted: November 07, 2003

GlaxoSmithKline P.L.C., the world's second-largest drug company, said yesterday that it would establish a research center in Upper Merion and in England that would concentrate on developing biotechnology medicines.

London-based Glaxo, which has a U.S. headquarters and 6,000 employees in the Philadelphia area, created six research centers, each focusing on a therapeutic area, in 2001 after the merger of SmithKline Beecham and Glaxo Wellcome.

The company calls these units "Centers of Excellence for Drug Discovery."

The new center will have 350 employees, who already work in Glaxo's Upper Merion research campus and at two locations in the United Kingdom, and will concentrate on biopharmaceuticals. Glaxo will not hire more people or construct a building for the center.

The goal is to make drug discovery more efficient by combining the resources of Glaxo's large size with the entrepreneurial spirit of a smaller biotechnology company, Glaxo spokesman Rick Koenig said.

"It's an area where we think we can become a leader in the industry," Koenig said.

Biotechnology medicines are derived from proteins and living organisms, unlike traditional drugs, which are chemically synthesized. Glaxo's newest unit will specialize in developing therapeutic vaccines, antibodies, and other protein-based medicines for diseases such as cancer.

Glaxo has 120 potential drugs in development, and it has been under pressure from Wall Street to show what its drug research pipeline is producing. The company will do that at meetings on Dec. 3 in London and Dec. 4 in New York.

The research centers are geared to a critical middle stage of drug development, where the compounds are prepared and taken into early clinical testing. They bridge the gap between the earliest drug discovery - sifting through genomes and screening chemicals - and the final testing in people.

Glaxo has six other drug-discovery units.

Its cardiovascular and urogenital center is in Upper Merion. Its microbial, musculoskeletal and cancer research center is in Upper Providence Township, Montgomery County.

A neurology and gastrointestinal center is in Harlow, England, and a respiratory disease and rheumatoid arthritis center is in Stevenage, England. A psychiatry research center is in Verona, Italy. And a metabolic and viral disease center is in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Contact staff writer Linda Loyd at 215-854-2831 or lloyd@phillynews.com.

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