Merck Serono

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Company: Merck Serono
Investment: $200 million over several years
Themes: R&D and CRO collaboration

Oversight is a common concern of companies outsourcing to China. Time zones, culture, distance and language make the already tricky task of CRO oversight much harder. It's an issue that impacts on big, experienced outsourcers--Eli Lilly ($LLY) reportedly brought some chemistry work back to Indianapolis after butting up against these obstacles.

Merck Serono chose a different path though. Instead of bringing the CRO to its home, it went to theirs. It now has an R&D lab on the Pharmaron campus in Beijing. "The partnership with Pharmaron provides us access to the appropriate facilities, staff expertise and know how for our R&D activities in China," a Merck Serono spokesperson told FierceBiotech. Pharmaron will support Merck Serono trials with bioanalysis of clinical samples for pharmacokinetic and pharmacogenomic studies.

Having invested $200 million to build and run the Beijing R&D hub for the next few years, Merck Serono is looking for a return on its spending. As well as benefiting from research capabilities in China, the Europe-based drugmaker expects the site to speed registration of drugs in the country, cutting the traditional lag.

The R&D site also "demonstrates commitment to the marketplace, including government" and puts Merck Serono in proximity to local health authorities, the spokesperson said. Both could improve market access and are major--but often unstated--purposes of many Big Pharma investments in China.  

Investment in China comes at a time when Merck Serono is taking an ax to its operations in Europe. And with the news of the expansion and closure coming within months of each other, the shift from West to East is particularly apparent at Merck Serono. Beijing has displaced Geneva as a focal point. "China is a country with talented scientists and high-quality research, and we believe that the establishment of a R&D hub in China will allow strengthening our global R&D expertise and capabilities in a cost-efficient manner," the spokesperson said.

For more:
Merck Serono opens doors at R&D shop in Beijing