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Biopharmaceutical companies shifting labs, jobs to Mass.

A wave of biopharmaceutical industry consolidation has been bringing jobs and companies to Massachusetts even as it has led to darkened labs and uprooted scientists in other states.

GE Healthcare became the latest player to disclose it is shrinking its R&D footprint elsewhere but growing in Massachusetts. The company, which last week said it would eliminate hundreds of jobs in New Jersey next year, on Wednesday confirmed it will move its US life sciences headquarters to Marlborough and add 220 employees.

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“A lot of our customer base is in Massachusetts,” said Kieran Murphy, the London-based president of GE Healthcare Life Sciences, which sells bioreactors, diagnostics, and processing equipment used in drug making. “It’s the home of pharma and of biotech. We feel we can access great talent from the universities there because it’s a center of innovation.”

Murphy’s company is following a well-worn playbook. Biopharma companies have been consolidating research and development operations at a brisk pace in recent years to cut costs, pare down pipelines of experimental drugs, and refocus on the most promising areas of medicine, in a series of moves that have producted winners and losers across the nation and abroad.

The number of biotech research and development jobs in Massachusetts increased by 13.7 percent to 28,042 between 2007 and 2013, according to an “industry snapshot” published Wednesday by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. That makes it the largest R&D workforce in the nation.

During that same period, California and Connecticut also gained biotech research jobs, but research employment dropped in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Michigan.

Late last month, Amgen Inc., the nation’s largest biotech, said it will expand its Cambridge research center by an unspecified number of jobs even as the company unveiled a restructuring plan that will cut 2,400 to 2,900 jobs globally and close four sites in Colorado and Washington state.

‘The largest companies feel like they have to be here now. My colleagues . . . are saying, “What’s your secret sauce?” ’

Robert K. Coughlin, MassBio president 
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Swiss drug giant Novartis AG last November said it would do away with 500 research jobs and close sites in Austria and San Diego, while adding about 175 jobs at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research in Cambridge, the company’s world research headquarters.

Massachusetts labs have also been spared, or have grown, in consolidation moves by drug makers Pfizer Inc., Sanofi SA, and AstraZeneca PLC, all of which have sought to collaborate with the region’s academic researchers and the cluster of biotech startups that stretches from Boston and Cambridge to Watertown and Route 128.

The state has added 5.1 million square feet of lab space since 2007, boosting the state’s total inventory to 21.2 million. Commercial real estate brokers say they have been shuttling potential biopharma tenants clamoring for space — including Amgen, Baxter International Inc., and Bristol-Myers Squibb — on tours of Kendall Square properties this summer.

“The largest companies feel like they have to be here now,” said MassBio president Robert K. Coughlin. “My colleagues from all over the country are saying, ‘What’s your secret sauce?’”

Even biopharma companies without a significant research presence in the state, such as Eli Lilly and Co. of Indianapolis and Switzerland’s Roche Holding AG, have been investing in collaborations with Massachusetts biotechs, Coughlin said.

“If I had to pick one thing that accounts for our secret sauce, it’s the density quotient, the large number of smart people working in one geographic area,” Coughlin said, citing the concentration of businesses near MassBio’s offices in Kendall Square. “It’s the collaboration, the collision of ideas. If you have a [research] campus that’s up in the rolling hills with a wall around it, those people aren’t going to be bumping into other people or sharing ideas.”

In fact, New York-based Pfizer has moved some research programs from its massive campus in Groton, Conn., to a new consolidated center in Kendall Square, while Sanofi, the French drugmaker that bought Cambridge-based Genzyme in 2011, moved some of its US research operations to Cambridge from its Bridgewater, N.J., campus.

Biopharma advisor Leora Schiff, principal at Altius Strategy Consulting in Somerville, also said Massachusetts benefits from inventors, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists operating in close proximity.

“There is a constant flow of ideas and information and people and money that makes it a very rich environment,” Schiff said. “In other biotech clusters, it’s hard for people to get together for coffee. And a lot of business gets done in coffee shops.”

Government and business leaders have also been promoting the state aggressively.

“We’re trying to make the big companies all around the country, all around the world, take a close look at Massachusetts,” said Susan Windham-Bannister, president of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, the agency that administers Governor Deval Patrick’s 10-year, $1 billion life sciences initiative. “We’re in a lot of very good conversations right now.”

The state regularly sends delegations to the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s conventions in the United States and Europe, where informal discussions with GE Healthcare began in 2013.

Windham-Bannister admitted the success of Massachusetts has created some hard feelings and bruised egos among her counterparts in other states.

“I'm not very popular,” she said in jest. “I have to be very careful when I’m traveling.”

Murphy, the GE Healthcare Life Sciences president, said he had good discussions with representatives of state government and the Massachusetts biotech industry. But though his company may try to take advantage of tax breaks and other incentives available to life sciences businesses that create jobs, Murphy said that was “secondary” in deciding where to locate.

“Some of this is about momentum,” Murphy said. “It comes down to having the right environment to do business and the right environment to attract talent.”

Robert Weisman can be reached at robert.weisman@globe.com.
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