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The hub of health care

Novartis is expanding its footprint in Cambridge.
Novartis is expanding its footprint in Cambridge.(John Tlumacki/globe staff/file 2014)

Today’s playing field for medical innovation is more competitive than ever. Transformational advances in the treatment of hepatitis C, cancer, and chronic heart failure are driving the industry ahead, and more are on the horizon. It is estimated that about 70 percent of the drugs currently in development are potential “first in class” treatments, meaning they use a completely new mechanism of action against disease. And as health care increasingly merges with advances in technology, out-of-the-box thinking will be necessary not only to succeed, but just to compete.

When it comes to advancing innovation, the Boston area is one of the world's most vital resources for a number of industries, especially health care.

That is why we at Novartis are expanding our footprint in Cambridge. This week, we have opened a new research facility comprising 550,000 square feet of lab and office space. The facility will provide space to teams working on a wide range of important disease areas, including neuroscience, ophthalmology, muscle disorders, and cardiovascular and metabolism. Since establishing our research operations there 13 years ago with just a small team, we have grown to become the largest corporate employer in Cambridge and the fourth largest employer in the city. Over this time, innovation at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research has been driven by the thriving talent base there, leading to many exciting discoveries for patients.

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As we look to the future, Cambridge will continue to be a keystone of our strategy. Here's why:

First, the health care innovation ecosystem is ripe for collaborations to advance research. Relationships with a variety of institutions, from established players to startups, allow us to exchange knowledge and resources that enhance the innovation process. Over the years, we’ve worked with prestigious local academic institutions such as the Broad Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Earlier this year, we signed collaboration and licensing agreements with Cambridge-based Intellia Therapeutics for the discovery and development of new medicines using CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) genome editing technology. This collaboration is enabling us to advance our work in genomics.

Second, the Boston area is a hub for innovation, which will be key as health care and technology create significant opportunities for patients. The technology sector is becoming a leading source of jobs in Massachusetts, employing nearly 20 percent of the workforce. Take IBM, for example, which recently added a Watson research center in Cambridge, just a short walk from the NIBR campus. Technologies like Watson have significant implications for health care.

Third, Boston is home to some of the world's best talent, thanks to its history of higher education and culture of continuous learning. More than 30,000 health care professionals and over 250,000 students across 52 higher education institutions, including elite establishments like Harvard and MIT, live in the Boston area. Access to top talent will be critical to generating game-changing innovation, making it ever more important for companies to go where pockets of world-class talent already exist.

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By tapping into the power of hubs like Cambridge across the global innovation ecosystem, we're already making significant strides in addressing today's health challenges. As we look to the future, one could imagine these advances changing the practice of medicine in radical ways: futuristic therapies, never previously thought possible, that target disease mechanisms in the body; technology that scans faces for warning signs of heart disease; and smart devices in clothing that monitor vital signs. With a deep presence in Cambridge, we look forward to forming innovative partnerships with the potential to change the practice of medicine.


Joseph Jimenez is CEO of Novartis.