Real estate

Merck pulls the trigger on a new West Coast R&D campus in the heart of a mega-hub

Merck has staked out a new R&D campus for itself in the heart of South San Francisco, the epicenter of the Bay Area’s biotech mega-hub.

Alexandria Real Estate Equities, the builder of many biotech facilities around the country, will be breaking ground on the site soon after Merck bought into a new, 294,000-square-foot West Coast research complex at 213 East Grand Avenue. The move-in date is being set for 2019.

The new campus will come with a waterfront view, a 300-seat auditorium with a fitness center and green spaces.

A Merck spokesman told me back in July that a central research campus in San Francisco would also open the door to about 100 new hires.

“We will ultimately consolidate our Oncology, Immuno-oncology, Biologics and CMR discovery work into a combined research site,” she noted at the time. “Our Palo Alto site will continue to focus on Immuno-Oncology and Biologics and Vaccines discovery until the long-term facility is up and running.”

The western migration follows a move by Merck to reduce staff levels at its operations in Kenilworth and Rahway, NJ. The move also affected its North Wales, PA screening facility. And Merck has already picked out a lab in Cambridge, MA for its expanded work in the East Coast hub. Now it’s well along the way to doing the same on the West Coast.

All of that fits neatly into a broad industry trend that has dominated R&D over the past 5 years. Big Pharma has been identifying central hubs, often in the mega-centers like Cambridge, MA, Cambridge, UK and San Francisco, to concentrate its forces. The basic idea is that planting these facilities squarely in the most dense concentrations of biotech companies is one way to pollinate new research work with some new ideas. And Novartis, AstraZeneca, Roche, GSK, Merck and others have all followed suit, in one way or another.

A few years ago, Merck’s R&D organization was all but snake bit, experiencing one setback after the next. Roger Perlmutter’s return to Merck as R&D chief — quickly followed by a major overhaul — coincided with breakout data for its checkpoint program for Keytruda, which now is the center of attention in some 360 clinical trials. And after shaming Bristol-Myers Squibb in non-small cell lunger cancer, its prospects have never been brighter in oncology.


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RAPS Regulatory Convergence 2017