Merck opens a £1bn London research center with a plea for government support to industry

Merck’s chief research officer has called for the UK government make the country more welcoming of pharma companies. This is ahead of next week, when the US-based company will break ground in London on a £1bn Research Centre.

Dean Li, President of Merck’s Research Laboratories, praised UK’s scientific expertise and talent. He hoped that the investment at King’s Cross would help researchers from MSD (known as Merck in US) work closely with academics in order to create new treatments in areas like neurology.

He said: “We are still very bullish about the discovery side. But there is a limit to how much you can advance your investment, based on the ecosystem as a whole.”

He said that Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor of the UK and the Health Department should resolve conflicts with the Pharmaceutical Industry over drug prices and obstacles to running clinical trial in the NHS. He said that the UK must compete with countries like Belgium, which are also attempting to attract investment in life sciences from groups like MSD.

He said that he hoped that the UK Government, the UK people, and the UK ecosystem would make the necessary investments so that MSD could sit there and say “Yes, we built it right”, adding that he understood the reasons why some pharma firms had declined to invest in the UK.

MSD announced its investment at a time when other drugmakers warned that they were discouraged from making such an investment. AstraZeneca announced in February that it chose to open a $360mn facility in Ireland rather than the UK because of the “discouragement tax rate”. Bayer, a German drugmaker, said it cut staff last year.

Drugmakers are frustrated by the UK’s plan to turn the country into a superpower in the life sciences, but this does not include a higher price for medicine.

They have criticised a significant increase in the tax on clawback, which the NHS demands that they pay for drugs. They are also locked in negotiations to reach a voluntary agreement regarding prices by the end the year.

MSD hopes to unite scientists from different sites in the King’s Cross region and double its number of researchers. The company works with Francis Crick Institute researchers, a biomedical centre. It also hires staff from nearby London Universities.

MSD has helped to transform cancer treatment with its drug Keytruda. It harnessed the body’s immune system in order to fight tumours. Scientists will focus on the intersection between neuroscience, inflammation, and immunology at the new facility, and hope to use 3D-printed cells to create new drugs and better understand the brain.

Li stated that “we need to invest in neurology because it is a scream need.”