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Merck and Qiagen to expand in U.K.

Investments come as British government seeks more life science investment

by Alex Scott
November 29, 2017 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 95, ISSUE 48

Credit: Shutterstock
Merck and Qiagen are investing heavily in the U.K. despite wider concerns about Brexit.

U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co. and German diagnostics firm Qiagen are separately planning major investments in the U.K. The moves accompany a raft of British government measures intended to bolster the life sciences sector as the country prepares to leave the European Union.

Merck is set to invest $1.3 billion to build a new U.K. headquarters and drug research center in the London area. Scheduled to open in about 2020, the facility will house 150 new researchers plus 800 staffers currently working in Hoddesdon, north of London.

“This new London location will enable us to … be an important contributor to the vibrant and rapidly growing London life sciences community, while providing access for more collaborations within the European life science ecosystem,” says Roger M. Perlmutter, president of Merck Research Laboratories.

In the near term, Merck plans to establish a small temporary research facility in the London area. The firm says it is already recruiting for qualified scientists.

Meanwhile, Qiagen and other as-yet-undisclosed firms plan to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to establish a genomics research campus in Manchester, England, intended to create up to 800 new jobs. The campus will be operated with Health Innovation Manchester, a U.K. agency promoting health care collaborations between industry and academia.

The British government says it expects more pharmaceutical investments to be announced in the coming weeks. If they transpire, they will represent something of a turnaround for the U.K., which in the past decade has been at the sharp end of research job cuts by firms such as Novartis, Pfizer, and Roche.

The Merck and Qiagen plans coincide with U.K. initiatives to attract more life sciences investment. The government has proposed a new industrial strategy that includes increasing life sciences spending by $280 million and giving tax breaks on money spent on research.

The potential incentives are widely seen as stimuli to address the U.K. biotech industry’s increasing alarm about the negative impacts from Brexit—Great Britain’s impending exit from the European Union, which is due to take place in March 2019.

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