Merck is about to invest roughly $1.3 billion to open a drug discovery facility in London. The decision emerges as a positive sentiment in the UK at a time when its facing obstacles to sway companies they will perform well in the country following Brexit.
All in all, the site will employ roughly 950 people, though only 150 of the jobs will be in new research roles. The 800 jobs remaining will be responsible to handle day-to-day tasks at the current Merck buildings in the U.K., which the company is leasing, having sold the site to the CRO Pharmaron.
Even with those caveats, the commitment still signifies a huge boost for the U.K. government. The life science sector, similar to all other industries, has become more concerned in recent months as perceptions of the government’s handling of Brexit have turned.
AstraZeneca has mentioned the topic of losing out on job candidates due to Brexit. And the politician who represents a region in which GlaxoSmithKline runs a production plant said pharmaceutical industry representatives she met “are desperate for some clarification on future trading relations and regulation” and will pause investments or make them outside the U.K. unless the government gives them a more clear direction.
It’s still very wary and a lot depends on the United Kingdom coming to terms with the rest of the EU. Though officials have said, in Merck’s case to ease nerves by committing to assist biotech companies as part of a sector deal anticipated to done in the coming weeks.
Roger Perlmutter, M.D., Ph.D., president of MSD Research Laboratories, reported Brexit would make life “challenging” for the company’s scientists as they “benefited from a world where they receive grants from the European Union.” Today, Perlmutter adopted a different position, saying in a statement that the London site will provide “access for more collaborations within the European life science ecosystem.”
Whatever ignited the change in position has encouraged Merck to move forward with plans to open a discovery center in London. Merck is currently searching out locations with a view and plans to open in 2020. In the meantime, Merck plans to set up a temporary research center and is recruiting scientists.