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Bristol-Myers Squibb to open research site in Cambridge

Plans Kendall Square drug-discovery center

A rendering of the Alexandria Center, a new Kendall Square office building at 100 Binney St. in Cambridge, where Bristol Myers Squibb is expected to open a new scientific research facility.
A rendering of the Alexandria Center, a new Kendall Square office building at 100 Binney St. in Cambridge, where Bristol Myers Squibb is expected to open a new scientific research facility. (Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc.)

How many big pharma research centers can fit in Cambridge? At least one more.

On Thursday, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. said it will open a drug-discovery center in Kendall Square in early 2018 with 300 workers to focus on genetic diseases. The 100 Binney St. site will include about 100 researchers from a Waltham lab that is slated to close. The center’s other 200 employees may include many accepting transfers from a Wallingford, Conn., company site also to be shut down as part of a broader Bristol-Myers restructuring.

But the New York-based company, which employs about 450 people at a biologics manufacturing plant in Devens, will probably recruit some new hires from the Boston area, said spokeswoman Sarah Koenig.

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“We really feel this is an opportunity to be right in the heart of a vibrant ecosystem,” Koening said. “It’s a great environment for external collaboration. It’s a heavy concentration of world-class science, innovation, and business opportunities.”

Bristol-Myers joins a parade of biopharmaceutical companies that have recently established or expanded operations in Cambridge, a leading worldwide life sciences hub. Drug makers Pfizer Inc., Sanofi SA, and Novartis AG have all consolidated research operations at their Cambridge sites, even while cutting jobs and research programs at other locations around the world.

Baxter International Inc. is setting up a 400-person research site for its new biopharma business, Baxalta, behind the Bristol-Myers building.

The drug giants are drawn by an entrepreneurial culture marked by partnerships between industry and academic researchers, licensing of technology from hospitals and universities, and the spin-off of business, said life sciences adviser Leora Schiff, principal at Altius Strategy Consulting in Somerville. As their patents expire, exposing their products to competition from low-priced generics, the pharmaceutical giants are on the hunt for new drug candidates, she said.

“It’s part of this activity by the Big Pharmas to locate near the science and be able to cultivate relationships with the scientists who are doing cutting edge research,” Schiff said. “They’re intensifying their efforts given that they have to replenish their pipelines.”

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A leader in the emerging field of immuno-oncology, which seeks to boost the immune system to fend off cancers, Bristol-Myers also develops drugs to treat heart failure, fibrotic diseases, and a range of genetically defined diseases caused by specific mutations.

At its 89-acre Devens facility, about 45 miles west of Boston, the company produces the rheumatoid arthritis treatment Orencia. Bristol-Myers already has several collaborations in Massachusetts, including one with Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and another with Allied Minds, a company that develops and commercializes technology.

Bristol-Myers’s restructuring will also expand a site in the San Francisco Bay Area, another biopharma center, that focuses on immunotherapies, partly by relocating about 40 scientists now in Seattle.

At its 900-worker Wallingford, Conn., operation, 200 researchers will be offered jobs in Cambridge, 100 others will be offered jobs at a New Jersey site, and 100 jobs will be eliminated, Koenig said. She said the remaining 500 jobs will be moved to a new Connecticut site in a location yet to be determined.

“It’s obviously our hope that our talented employees will stay with the company,” she said. Overall, she said, the restructuring “is not a cost-cutting move” but an investment in research and geographic areas that will best position Bristol-Myers for the future.

Bristol-Myers will be moving into a Binney Street building under construction by Alexandria Real Estate Equities Inc., a real estate developer focusing on life sciences.

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Robert Weisman can be reached at robert.weisman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW. Jack Newsham can be reached atjack.newsham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheNewsHam.