Published February 07. 2014 9:45AM Updated February 08. 2014 12:33AM
Groton — Pfizer Inc.’s local site leader said Friday the company is talking with the bioscience network Connecticut United for Research Excellence about the possibility of CURE moving into one of the vacant buildings at the pharmaceutical giant’s sprawling campus off Eastern Point Road.
The revelation by Rod MacKenzie, a Pfizer senior vice president, came during a question-and-answer session at a breakfast meeting of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut. He declined to provide further details.
MacKenzie, speaking at the Groton Inn & Suites, also said Pfizer is working with the state to reuse another empty building on campus. He didn’t give specifics, but the state last year acknowledged it was working on a deal to lease Pfizer’s former data center to the Bureau of Enterprise Systems and Technology, which provides technology support for the executive branch.
“We’re hopeful we will have something to say shortly,” MacKenzie said.
Susan Froshauer, president and chief executive of CURE and a former Pfizer employee, said in a phone interview afterward that there are many moving parts in the ongoing negotiations over one of the Pfizer buildings, which was not identified by either party. Two sources identified the proposed site as Building 286, which has nearly 24,000 square feet of lab and office space that is easily segregated from the Pfizer campus and earlier was identified as among the best options for use as a business incubator.
“It’s not a done deal,” Froshauer said. “We’re talking about it. It needs a couple of weeks.”
Froshauer said she wouldn’t go into details about the scope of the plans or what the building would be used for until everything is finalized. She said details of the plan are complex and involve changes within her organization as well as negotiations with Pfizer and the state.
“It’s a new chapter in the mission of CURE,” she said.
CURE, based in New Haven, is an association devoted to promoting the bioscience industry in Connecticut. Under Froshauer’s guidance, it has increasingly been reaching out to offer networking opportunities throughout the state.
Pfizer has several empty buildings on its campus after a companywide downsizing cut the workforce in Groton by more than 1,000 over the past few years. Building 118, Pfizer’s former research headquarters, is in the midst of demolition.
MacKenzie, Pfizer’s Groton site leader, said the company tried to market the 750,000-square-foot building for an extended period without success. He said Connecticut is among Pfizer’s most cost-effective places to do business, and urged the local community to avoid putting the Groton site in the position of being less cost-effective, an apparent reference to efforts by city officials last year to delay the demolition of Building 118 by three months.
“We can’t afford to maintain empty buildings,” MacKenzie said.
MacKenzie added that he sees a bright future for the Groton site, despite downsizings over the past few years that have cut Pfizer employment in the region nearly in half. The company employs more than 3,000 in Groton, not including 3,500 contractors, he said.
The Groton campus has recruited 179 employees over the past year, he said, including many young scientists.
“We are not necessarily growing net, but we are recruiting,” he said. “I think the tide is beginning to turn.”
MacKenzie pointed out that Groton, still Pfizer’s largest research site worldwide, has been helping advance a range of new drugs, including a vaccine against MRSA, a new therapy for sick cell disease and a promising compound targeting the neurodegenerative Huntington’s disease.
“We touch every drug that comes out,” he said.
Catherine Smith, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development who spoke before MacKenzie, said expanding Connecticut’s bioscience capabilities is one of the cornerstones of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s jobs initiatives.
Smith pointed to initiatives intended to boost the state’s investment in science and technology education over the next few years as well as Malloy’s decision to entice Jackson Laboratory to put stakes down in Connecticut. She cited as well pharmaceutical businesses that have made the state their home, including Boehringer Ingelheim, Purdue Pharma and Pfizer, which opened its first laboratory here in 1959.
“I’m confident we can continue to build on the relationship with Pfizer to make them an even more important part of this community,” said Smith.