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Good medicine

Published February 10. 2014 4:00AM

Speaking to a group of local businesspeople, Rod MacKenzie, group senior vice president and head of PharmaTherapeutics Research at Pfizer, provided a vision of stability for its Groton campus, a welcomed update after the uncertainty and downsizing seen locally at Pfizer in the last several years.

There are about 3,000 employees - "colleagues" in Pfizer parlance - and 3,500 contractors working at Pfizer's research and development campus in Groton, said Mr. MacKenzie, speaking Friday at a Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut breakfast meeting, held at Groton Inn & Suites.

Without directly referencing it, Mr. MacKenzie seemed to dismiss fears that continued change could lead to the closing of Pfizer operations here.

"There is no other place where we have that level of expertise," he said, calling the campus "a very vibrant, thriving site." Asked after the speech what he expected the situation to be in five years, Mr. MacKenzie predicted staffing to be about where it is now (though adding the caveat that no one can say with certainty what the future will bring).

Pfizer has about 81 medicines in various stages of the development and testing pipeline, including six awaiting Food and Drug Administration approval, said Mr. MacKenzie. Some of the most promising include a vaccine to ward off staph infections before a patient enters the hospital, a drug to attack breast cancer, and medicine to slow the effects of Huntington Disease.

Speaking at the same event, state Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith said growing the bioscience industry is a priority for her department. The state is working with Pfizer to find reuses for buildings left vacant after staff reductions at the Groton facility, Ms. Smith said. Those talks include discussions with CURE (Connecticut United for Research Excellence), a network of health care science companies who collaborate to cultivate the industry in the state. (Unfortunately, the effort comes too late to save Building 118, a massive former research facility being razed by Pfizer. Ms. Smith said the state and Pfizer tried.)

As a large employer with well-paid workers, Pfizer is a major piece of southeastern Connecticut's economic foundation. Reports that it has stabilized should boost confidence in the local economy and encourage investment; good medicine for a patient who hasn't been feeling all that well of late.

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