Science and technology leader Merck has been in Switzerland for almost a century. Today it has eight sites and three are located in the Greater Zurich Area. Overall, Merck operates five manufacturing facilities in Switzerland and has invested a further EUR 418 million in new production capacity in the last two years. Christiane von der Eltz, General Manager and Managing Director at Merck Switzerland AG, explains why Merck regards Switzerland as a strong, strategic, and ever more attractive location for biotech.
How did Merck come to have eight sites in Switzerland and what is the current focus of activities?
We have been here since 1929 and the number of sites reflects our growing business, especially in healthcare and life sciences. To date we have five manufacturing facilities producing high quality, specialist products for a global market. Merck sites in Aubonne and Corsier-sur-Vevey are the primary hubs for the manufacture of biotech medicines and play an important role in the growth of our healthcare business and the launch of new medicines worldwide. Switzerland is also the home to the Merck Global Health Institute and the Connected Health & Devices organization, both based in Eysins.
Our healthcare business in Zug is dedicated to serving the needs of the Swiss market, while our sites in Buchs, Schaffhausen and Altdorf form a key hub for the development and manufacturing of analytical standards, certified reference materials and critical pharma raw materials. They are also home to our customer- specific pharma intermediates, active pharmaceutical ingredients and drug delivery compounds.
Are there any further plans for expansion?
Over the past two years, we have made significant investments in Switzerland. In March 2019, we announced a EUR 150 million expansion of our biotech manufacturing site in Aubonne. We followed this with a EUR 250 million investment in a new biotech development center in Corsier-sur-Vevey in January 2020. And in July 2020, we announced a EUR 18 million investment for a new laboratory facility in Buchs to support our rapidly growing reference materials business. Alongside these transformational investments, we continue to invest in our Swiss manufacturing sites – as we do around the world – to maintain state-of-the-art industry levels.
In what capacity are Merck’s Swiss units working on the company’s new manufacturing approach for the production of life-saving biologics?
The Merck Biotech Development Center, currently under construction in Corsier-sur-Vevey, will be Merck’s global center of expertise for biotech development and manufacturing for clinical studies. The aim is to achieve sustainably secure capacity and high agility to deliver clinical trial material in a cost-effective way. The new center will help to accelerate development timelines for new biological entities and address the ever-increasing manufacturing complexity involved in the production of next-generation biotech compounds.
The new facility will be equipped with the most advanced digital solutions and operate to the highest technological standards, including continuous manufacturing and laboratory automation. It will offer a flexible-by-design infrastructure to readily adapt to emerging needs and technology evolution, as well as open and inspiring workspaces to enable collaboration, creativity, and innovation.
This investment is closely allied to the growth and progression of Merck’s healthcare pipeline and its future potential. It reflects Merck’s commitment to speed up the availability of new medicines for patients in need.
Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and block chain play an important part when it comes to innovating in the healthcare space. What are some of Merck’s current projects in this field?
In healthcare, digitization is an opportunity to improve the way in which we serve our patients. This is true across the whole value chain, from research & development through to manufacturing, supply, and commercialization. In biotech manufacturing, we are using data science to improve the process development of our biotech medicines. For example, machine learning techniques can be used to optimize selection of the most efficient cell clones for manufacturing activities.
Another example is the use of real-time multivariate analysis in biotech manufacturing. Its application to production in bioreactors demonstrates how big data and machine learning can deliver significant improvements in productivity and quality.
What are major challenges and opportunities that Merck foresees in the healthcare space in general and the biotech industry in particular, and how does it aim to tackle them?
Ensuring the flawless supply of current medicines and speeding up the availability of new medicines for patients in need are two key challenges in the healthcare space. In fact, these are the drivers for our two major ongoing investments in the Lake Geneva area: the expansion of our biotech manufacturing site in Aubonne and the construction of a new biotech development center in Corsier-sur-Vevey.
How would you characterize Switzerland as a biotech location?
Switzerland offers attractive and stable conditions for international companies and is one of the best and most innovative locations for biotechnology in Europe. It occupies a unique political and commercial position that can be advantageous for biotech companies, whilst ensuring strong connections to the global markets. Modern infrastructure, high quality of life, and access to highly trained employees contribute to the extremely positive conditions for a strong and future-oriented biotechnology industry in Switzerland. And importantly, we can be confident that these conditions will be maintained over the longer term.
How would you describe in four words, what Switzerland means as a location to Merck?
Strong, growing, strategic and innovative.
This article was first published by the Swiss Biotech Association and Switzerland Global Entreprise.
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