Merck to build £1B London R&D hub for its first ex-U.S. early research center

Making good on its 2017 promise to back post-Brexit Britain, U.S. Big Pharma Merck is set to spend £1 billion ($1.31 billion) on a new unifying early research hub in England’s capital city.

The new hub, which will bring together staffers from across the region to a central hub in London, will be the company's first early-stage R&D center outside of its native U.S. The focus will be on diseases of aging, predominately in neuroscience, an area with high risk but major unmet need.

Merck had made moves to create the hub back in 2017, a year after the U.K. voted to leave the EU, and was hailed by politicians as a positive investment.

It has been somewhat delayed, given how tight space is in London (the same issues New York has with lab space) and it wanting to be in the life sciences hub by the Francis Crick biomedical research institute in north London. Merck, known as MSD in Europe, already has a major five-year neuro R&D pact with the Crick Institute.

It will be called, quite simply, the London Discovery Research Centre, and it should be up and running by 2025, with work starting late next year, should it cut through the red tape. On top of the moving scientists and staffers from its other areas into the center, it also expects to create about 120 new jobs for scientists and technicians.

In all, it expects to employ 800 people at the 25,000-square-meter site and to spend £1 billion all told on the hub.

“We currently view the U.K. as a world leader in developing science, driven by the long-term emphasis on building a strong research and development infrastructure,” said David Peacock, MSD managing director for the U.K. and Ireland, speaking to the Financial Times.