Eisai to open Alzheimer’s research center in Alewife next year

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By  – Managing Editor, Boston Business Journal

Japanese drug giant Eisai Inc. plans to open a new 80-employee center in Cambridge’s Alewife neighborhood next year devoted to developing drugs for Alzheimer’s disease, while closing a similar-sized site in Andover.

The 50,000-square-foot facility, called the Center for Genetics Guided Dementia Discovery, will be located inside the new Alewife Research Center on CambridgePark Drive, which is now under construction. Eisai is committing more than $100 million initially to get the center up and running in the first three years, and plans a “significant investment” over the next decade, according to a statement from the company.

Nadeem Sarwar, now president of Eisai’s soon-to-close Andover Innovative Medicines Institute, or AiM, will lead the new site. In an interview on Wednesday, Sarwar said that the decision to move into Cambridge follows two years of “unexpectedly rapid” research on the intersection between the immune system and Alzheimer’s, a field known as immunodementia.

“The new center builds upon some of the key discoveries we’ve made at AiM,” said Sarwar.

In focusing on Alzheimer’s, Eisai is going after a much-needed and potentially lucrative disease, yet one in which drug trial failures are commonplace. A number of large drugmakers have tried and failed to develop Alzheimer’s treatments over the past decade. Cambridge-based Biogen currently has the most promising drug in late-stage development.

Eisai’s plan is to launch the center in early 2019 with around 80 scientists. Sarwar said the move to Cambridge will create opportunities to collaborate with scientists outside the company as well.

Eisai already has a cancer-focused biotech subsidiary in Cambridge called H3 Biomedicine, which was launched in 2011. Similar to the plan for the new center in Alewife, H3 got a 10-year, upfront commitment from Eisai.

Sarwar said he anticipates rapid drug development at the new center based on the recent research, but didn’t offer a specific timeline.

He said the center will likely hire some new employees to fill “new skillset needs,” while eliminating some from the Andover site whose skills are no longer needed. He said the company will be making such decisions over the next several months.