More and more pharma titans are planting small R&D divisions in biotech hotspots, hoping a startup-like environment will provide fertile ground for innovation.

Boston/Cambridge, San Diego, San Francisco, and Research Triangle Park, NC, – already home to top universities and biotech firms – give companies like Novartis, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Merck, Abbott, and Wyeth easy access to talent and cutting-edge collaboration.

"The climate here in Cambridge is innovative, it's entrepreneurial – for the US and the world – this is where the life sciences are happening," says Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR) spokesman Jeff Lockwood. NIBR, which will eventually employ roughly 1,000 scientists, was established with the goal of creating a "culture of science," with researchers focusing on understanding mechanism of action rather than a drug's downstream effects, Lockwood explains. The Cambridge facility also acts as headquarters for a global network of similarly tasked research centers.

Larger firms are...

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