Aiming for breakthroughs in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and other major illnesses, MIT and the pharmaceutical firm Pfizer Inc. held a formal groundbreaking on Monday morning for a new, multidisciplinary research center to be built on MIT property in the Kendall Square neighborhood.
The two-building complex will house Pfizer’s Cardiovascular, Metabolic, and Endocrine Diseases (CVMED) and Neuroscience research units. It will be situated within a couple of blocks of several MIT biomedical centers that conduct research related to Pfizer’s areas of drug development.
In remarks at the groundbreaking ceremony, MIT President Susan Hockfield said the complex would “magnify the creative intensity and collaborative spirit” that marks biotechnology research in the MIT area.
The prospect of Pfizer and MIT scientists collaborating on research projects, Hockfield added, is an extension of MIT founder William Barton Rogers’ vision of basic research being pursued both for its own sake and for the sake of developing useful technologies.
“Rogers championed the most fundamental science and the most practical applications, but most importantly, the fruitful interaction between those — and in doing so, he created the MIT that’s become a kind of innovation machine,” Hockfield said. The extension of MIT’s working relationship with Pfizer, she added, would reinforce the strength of Cambridge’s biotechnology research cluster, which “directly supports our mission of advancing knowledge and educating students in service to the nation and the world.”
In a short speech at the ceremony, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick noted the social significance of innovation, particularly in the life sciences. A hallmark of the state, Patrick said, is that “we are about inventing and shaping our own future. Not leaving entirely to chance what we want our outcomes to be. Not waiting for better times but shaping our own tomorrows.”
Collaboration ‘the key’ for unlocking creativity
The complex, at 610 Main Street, will feature 500,000 square feet of research space; Pfizer expects to move in near the end of 2013. The company has leased more than 180,000 square feet, which will house about 400 new biomedical research jobs, some of which will be filled by Pfizer scientists moving to the area, but many of which will be open for newly hired biologists, chemists and other researchers.
MIT research facilities near the site include the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University, and the MIT-affiliated Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.
The site will also contain 10,000 square feet of retail space on Main Street and an underground parking garage.
At Tuesday’s event, Pfizer executives spoke about the kinds of research advances they hope to make in multiple areas of research and drug development. Those include brain research for drugs that could help slow or ward off Alzheimer’s; new medicines to ease the symptoms of diabetes and eventually prevent it from occurring; and improvements in one of Pfizer’s core areas, drugs intended to reduce cardiovascular risks.
“To be situated here in Kendall Square allows Pfizer to go and contribute to breakthroughs in life science and technology,” said Mikael Dolsten, president of Pfizer Worldwide Research and Development, in remarks delivered at the ceremony. The “innovation culture” of the area, he added, “is the key that can unlock the creativity of our scientists.”
Scientist’s world ‘shrinking’ due to Alzheimer’s
Among the speakers at the event was Allen Krieger ’62, PhD ‘67, an astrophysicist and engineer, now retired, who has Alzheimer’s and spends time working as an advocate of those suffering from the disease.
Krieger’s mother and two other relatives have had Alzheimer’s as well, but Krieger himself did not necessarily think he would develop the disease until he started showing symptoms of forgetfulness.
“A few years ago, I started to lose my car,” Krieger said. After eventually receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, he was “appalled but relieved” about at least knowing the source of his cognitive troubles.
Still, Krieger said, he has found it difficult to grapple with the increasing loss of memory and sense of confusion he faces in everyday life.
“I always have the feeling that I’ve forgotten something important, but I can’t reconstruct my train of thought in order to know what it might be,” he said. Having previously traveled the world for both work and pleasure, Krieger noted, in recent years he has not ventured further than Springfield, Mass., where he visits his grandchildren, because he no longer feels comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings.
“My world is shrinking,” Krieger said, before adding a message for future Alzheimer’s researchers at the site: “Welcome, and good luck.”
At the end of the event, Hockfield, Patrick, Krieger, MIT Chancellor Eric Grimson and several Pfizer executives, among others, picked up shovels and dug into a pile of dirt arranged for the ceremonial event. Some construction work has already begun on the site.