Merck hikes investment in Irish biologics plant

pharmafile | March 30, 2009 | News story | Manufacturing and Production Europe, Ireland 

Merck & Co has increased its investment in a new biologic and vaccines facility in Carlow, Ireland, to 220 million euros.

The company's Merck Sharp & Dohme Biologics unit has earmarked an additional 20 million euros for the plant, which will employ around 170 staff across all areas of management, quality control, production, engineering, R&D and administration when it comes online in 2011.

The facility will include a formulation/manufacturing building and a sterile filling operation for Merck's vaccine products, and once completed will be the first stand-alone human vaccine unit in Ireland. There will also be an R&D unit to support recently launched products and develop new vaccines.

In addition to the boost to the region's life sciences sector, there will also be a short-term gain for Ireland's beleaguered construction industry. The expansion adds 160 jobs this year that will bring total construction worker employment during the site build to 460.

The news comes shortly after Merck announced its $41 billion merger with Schering-Plough to create the world's second-largest drugmaker, and fend off the top-line impact of recent pipeline disappointments and upcoming patent expirations.

Merck cited an increased focus on biologics medicines as one of the reasons for the merger with Schering-Plough.

Merck has not traditionally been a major player in therapeutic biologics, but has a vaccines business worth $4.2 billion in 2008. Meanwhile, Schering-Plough has been steadily raising its profile in biologics in recent years, both through organic growth and through acquisitions such as its $16 billion purchase of Organon Bioscience in 2007.

Dr Michael Thien, vice president of science, technology and global pharmaceutical commercialisation at Merck Manufacturing, said the investment "places Ireland and Carlow at the forefront of our plans" for biologics and vaccines.

Both Merck and Schering-Plough already have a major presence in Ireland, collectively employing more than 2,000 people in the country.

Aside from the new Carlow plant, Merck's Irish facilities are in Leopardstown in Dublin and Clonmel in Tipperary, together employing around 600 staff. Schering-Plough operates three manufacturing sites in Ireland, two located in Wicklow (Bray and Rathdrum) and one at Brinny in Cork, which have a headcount of around 1,400.

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