Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca said Friday that it will open a major research center in Cambridge’s Kendall Square, the heart of the region’s biotech industry. The British drugmaker will move about 1,500 employees into a building that is expected to open in early 2026, with room for significant growth, the company said.
The 570,000-square-foot facility, on the site of the Kendall Center Blue Garage at 290 Binney St., is part of a recently announced plan by developer Boston Properties to build two 16-story lab and office buildings along with a 38-floor residential tower, which will be Cambridge’s tallest building. AstraZeneca will occupy space in one of the 16-story buildings.
AstraZeneca will move employees to Kendall Square from its research center in Waltham and from the company’s subsidiary, Alexion Pharmaceuticals, now headquartered in Boston’s Seaport District. Those sites will be shut down when the move is complete.
AstraZeneca acquired Alexion, which is focused on developing drugs for rare diseases, for $39 billion last year. Alexion, which will retain its name and a degree of autonomy, will move its corporate headquarters into the new Kendall Square site, but the subsidiary’s research center will remain in New Haven, Conn., where it is expanding.
The new research center will give AstraZeneca a presence between buildings owned by Biogen and put the pharma company just a block away from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, as well as numerous other research facilities and biotech companies, including Moderna. The company’s consolidation in Kendall Square comes at a time when lab space is scarce and many smaller biotech firms are struggling. Some companies have been priced out of Kendall and are looking ― or have moved ― to the Boston suburbs for less expensive space.
“We believe in this proximity of being in the center, of being in the hotbeds of innovation and discovery, is going to one day help us innovate better and innovate faster,” said Alexion chief executive Marc Dunoyer, who was AstraZeneca’s chief financial officer from 2013 to 2021.
AstraZeneca’s Waltham site is currently the base for about 500 researchers largely focused on cancer. “We want to expand the research facilities of AstraZeneca in Boston,” Dunoyer said. “There will be ample room for growth in that new facility.”
Alexion employs more than 700 people at its Seaport headquarters. Dunoyer said that the Kendall Square space will allow that number to grow. “It is the opposite of job cuts,” he said. Alexion, he added, will “have large autonomy on research, development, manufacturing, commercialization.”
The Kendall Square center will be able to accommodate about 3,000 people, more than twice as many employees as the Seaport and Waltham sites combined. It will be one of four research centers for AstraZeneca and likely will focus on oncology, Dunoyer said. Broadly speaking, the firm’s Cambridge, UK, research site also has an emphasis on cancer, its Gaithersburg, Md., location focuses on biologic drugs, and labs in Gothenburg, Sweden, work on cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.
The move to Kendall Square will put AstraZeneca in the company of other major pharma firms with research sites in Cambridge, including Takeda, Novartis, and Merck & Co. In February, Eli Lilly & Co. said it would create a new genetic medicine research site of 250 employees in the Seaport.