Shire PLC, which has grown into the second-largest biotech employer in Massachusetts. after Sanofi Genzyme, has decided to redeploy its more than 3,000 workers — now scattered at a half-dozen sites across the state — to two main campuses in Cambridge and Lexington.
The consolidation will take place in a series of moves over the next four years. Hundreds of scientists and researchers who work for the Irish drug maker in Lexington will be shifted to Cambridge’s Kendall Square by mid-2019. Shire will also bring 100 other research jobs there from Austria and, by 2021, move its US headquarters from Lexington to Cambridge.
When the moves are completed, Shire will have what it’s calling a “center of excellence” in Cambridge for biopharma research and US business operations. It will have another center in Lexington to manufacture biotech drugs for clinical trials and commercial sales, to develop devices such as auto-injectors and wearable infusors to deliver medicines, and to work on technology that can connect drug-device combination products to smartphones and computers.
Drug production now done at a smaller site in Cambridge’s Alewife neighborhood will be moved into a larger facility in Lexington.
“Shire currently has a bit of a fragmented structure in Massachusetts,” said Flemming Ornskov, its Lexington-based chief executive. “One of the issues we have now is that everyone is spread out in many locations. We want to consolidate.”
Company executives said it was premature to specify how many employees will work at each major site after the redeployment. Although some satellite locations could be closed, Shire says it is not planning any job cuts in Massachusetts, for now. Its workforce in the state has expanded more than sixfold over the past decade, and is likely to continue expanding, Ornskov said.
“To imagine that we won’t grow in the next decade is unrealistic,” he said.
Shire has 2,257 employees in Lexington, 296 in Kendall Square, 244 in Alewife, 86 in Milford, 69 in Burlington, 25 in North Reading, and 64 who work remotely in the state.
Some researchers working in Lexington, who were told of the consolidation plan at a company “town hall” there last week, complained about the move and the difficulty of commuting into increasingly congested Kendall Square, according to an employee who attended the meeting. The researcher spoke on the condition that his identity not be disclosed out of fear of retribution.
Ornskov acknowledged the company could face “limited attrition” during the transition, but said he expects to retain most of the employees who will be shifted from Lexington to Cambridge. At least one research function, called process development, will remain in Lexington.
“If you look at Greater Boston, and where things are located, most biotech and large pharma companies that are active in research and development are already in Cambridge,” he said.
Shire’s campus in Kendall Square will include two buildings: the “Genzyme Center” structure at 500 Kendall St. being vacated by Sanofi Genzyme — which is moving to a nearby site — and a building next door, where Shire acquired a lease through last year’s $32 billion takeover of biopharma company Baxalta Inc.
Ornskov, a Danish-born doctor by training, said he will temporarily take over Shire’s research and development operations as the company plans the moves. Phil Vickers, global head of research and development for the past four years, recently said he plans to step down.
Shire, a leader in therapies that treat rare genetic disorders, has about 40 drug candidates in its pipeline, including about 20 in late-state development.