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CAMBRIDGE, MA-Novartis AG, the Basil, Switzerland-based pharmaceutical giant, is leasing the 500,000-sf New England Confectionary Co. building on Massachusetts Avenue. The company’s deal gives it an option to buy the building.

This deal comes on the heels of Novartis’ announcement in May that it is taking 255,000 sf of space in Kendall Square to develop the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, which will be the center for the company’s worldwide research activities. Novartis plans an initial $250-million investment to develop the center.

The company says it plans to occupy the building, which will be part of the company’s new research center, by the first quarter of 2004. The facility will provide space for 600 scientists, technology experts and support staff, which will bring the projected total number of employees for the new research center to 950. Novartis plans to remodel the space into what it calls “a scientific center for the new century.”

The city is increasingly becoming a center for biotech companies. While vacancy rates for office space have been rising with the downturn in the real estate market, the area’s biotech market has seen its vacancy rates remain at around 5%.

Necco is moving to a new facility in Revere, MA. The company had been at this facility for over 75 years.

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