The 200,000 sq ft facility in Carlow, Ireland supports the biopharma firm’s global vaccine business, but Merck & Co. (known as MSD outside North America) is looking to use the site to manufacture and supply oncology biologics through this latest infrastructure investment.
“The site has historically been used to manufacture vaccines but will play a key role for our oncology products,” MSD spokesperson Caroline Collins told Biopharma-Reporter.com.
She confirmed the Carlow plant will be used to supply the US market with Merck’s humanized monoclonal antibody Keytruda (pembrolizumab), which became the first US anti-PD-1 (programmed death receptor-1) therapy approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last September for patients with advanced melanoma.
Keytruda is currently in clinical trials for further indications, including non-small cell lung cancer (the licence for which Merck submitted to the FDA last week), and is seen by the firm to be a key part of its growing presence in the oncology sector.
“We continue to fortify our oncology business unit as we prepare for potential launches in other tumours,” Adam Schechter, Merck’s President of Global Human Health said in February while reporting end of year financials (transcript here). “We are investing to be a global leader in oncology.”
While Keytruda is yet to have received licensing locally, Collins said Carlow would supply materials for ongoing clinical trials in Ireland.
Government support and training
The €11.5m expansion is the latest in a string of investments at Merck’s Carlow plant, totalling over €300m over the past few years, and the company says its continued commitment to Ireland is driven by the local talent and Government support.
The Irish Government announced recently it was offering grants in process development in order to remain competitive with other biomanufacturing hubs such as Singapore and Puerto Rico. It has also invested almost €60m into the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT), to ensure the country has a high skill set for the biomanufacturing sector.
MSD’s Vice President of Biologics, Ireland, Brendan O’Callaghan told this publication last year that Carlow has “hired over 200 people and brought them all through NIBRT and trained them in terms of aseptic processing technique and capability.”
However, it is unclear for now whether this latest investment will bring further jobs to the plant.