German Merck opens the doors to its new M-Lab collab center in Korea

As it looks to boost its presence in East Asia, and its R&D capacity, German Merck says it has launched its “M Lab Collaboration Center” in the Songdo district of Incheon, Korea--a burgeoning biotech hub in Asia.

This new Center was unveiled today (but how much it costs was not) and starts off with 1,865 square meters of space and around 10 scientists and engineers, with the plan to rub shoulders with other major Asian players in the region--such as Samsung Biologics.

In a statement, Merck said its new digs were designed to allow: “Biopharmaceutical manufacturers with a shared, exploratory environment where they can closely collaborate with Merck scientists and engineers to solve their toughest challenges and accelerate development and production of new therapies.”

The Center will include a simulated manufacturing environment and offer full end-to-end process development support, the pharma said, while also seeking to serve local biopharma manufacturers.

Udit Batra, member of the Merck executive board and CEO of its Life Science unit, said: “With a rapidly growing biopharmaceutical industry in Korea and demand for novel and cost-effective therapies worldwide, there is a clear need for innovative concepts like our M Lab Collaboration Centers.

“At our new center in Incheon, our customers will benefit from our deep technical expertise to develop processes for manufacturing drugs faster, safer and more effectively than ever before.”

The German-based company, which also has a hand in other engineering and tech work outside of life sciences, has had its share of ups and downs in the drug research space--with one of its biggest setbacks coming five years ago when its MS hope Movectro (cladribine) was knocked back by the FDA after it asked for extra studies.

It had been approved in Australia and Russia in 2010, but it later pulled its applications in other regions, including Europe. Last year, however, the company said the EMA has accepted for review its med for a certain form of MS.

In 2015 Merck also said it would no longer seek approval for its solid tumour candidate evofosfamide after two Phase III trials failed to show efficacy. It also canceled its Stimuvax cancer vaccine program after it too failed to show it worked in lung cancer patients.

These problems have led to CEO Karl-Ludwig Kley betting big on the company’s $17 billion acquisition of chemical firm Sigma-Aldrich to reduce Merck’s dependence on its marketed meds, coming after a decade of failing to develop a new drug and bring it to market.

Following the same philosophy, it also bought Millipore, a U.S. maker of lab equipment and chemicals, for about $6 billion in 2010 and then added AZ Electronic Materials a few years later for $2.5 billion.

But it’s certainly not walking away from developing medicines and is ramping up its footprint in Asia-- In August 2014, it started construction on an €80 million (then $107.67 million) plant in the Greater Shanghai region, with a focus on production of diabetes drugs Glucophage, Concor and Euthyrox, as well as drugs for heart and thyroid conditions.

It’s also moving more deeply into biosimilars, announcing recent plans to invest €380 million ($494 million) in developing these copycat meds.

And perhaps most promising is its PD-L1 program, of which it has a near $1 billion partnership with Pfizer, as it looks to get in on the checkpoint inhibitor blockbuster space.