Merck Serono reaffirms commitment to Germany with €65M R&D expansion

Merck Serono is embarking on a €65 million ($73.5 million) R&D expansion at its headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany. The investment will fund the construction of a building to house different units of its drug discovery operation, enabling an all-under-one-roof approach Merck Serono is hoping will improve its fortunes.

Management is aiming to open the 16,000-square-meter building late in 2017, at which time 200 staffers from across Merck Serono's Darmstadt drug discovery operation will relocate to the facility. The idea is to improve conditions for innovative R&D by putting researchers with expertise in molecular pharmacology, computational chemistry, protein engineering and other scientific fields in close proximity to one another. Merck Serono is doubling down on this approach by locating the building within the new "pharma square" on the Darmstadt campus.  

Merck KGaA board member Kai Beckmann

Kai Beckmann, a member of the Merck KGaA executive board, described the facility as an "open and modern environment that fosters collaboration and innovation across disciplines" in a statement to unveil the plan. The move puts Merck Serono on the growing list of drug discovery organizations to identify the lowering of physical barriers between staffers as the solution to their R&D productivity conundrums. With Darmstadt being the biggest of the four hubs on which Merck Serono's R&D unit is based, the success of the move will go a long way toward shaping its hit rate in the coming years.

An uptick in the rate at which molecules emerge from the drug discovery unit--and a decline in the proportion of them that flunk clinical trials--would provide a welcome boost to Merck Serono. Late-phase missteps have blighted Merck Serono in recent years, leading to the company becoming better known for axing facilities than investing in them. Against this background, the company is framing the €65 million investment in the new building as a reason for workers at the Darmstadt site to feel confident that their employer is planning to stick around.

"With this building, we are sending out another signal that the Darmstadt site will continue to serve as a core R&D Hub for Merck," Beckmann said.

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