In February 2020, US giant MSD announced the launch of a new site in Zurich specialising in R&D, data management, and commercialisation, foregrounding the company’s commitment to Switzerland. MSD employs over 1000 people in Switzerland across five sites in local, regional, and global functions, engages in 25 in-country clinical trials per year, and also has a manufacturing facility which plays a crucial role in manufacturing clinical supply for studies worldwide.
The new Zurich office will, according to an MSD press release, “primarily be focused on accelerating research, data collection and commercialization of medicines and vaccines. Moreover, the new office in Zurich will be staffed by teams working in strategic and operational roles in areas such as medical affairs, clinical development, access and marketing operations.”
We want to ensure that Switzerland becomes an even stronger player within MSD globally and that MSD becomes an even more important player within the Swiss ecosystem
In a recent conversation with PharmaBoardroom AVP Managing Director of MSD Switzerland Ans Heirman outlined the significance of the new Zurich site and what it will mean for the work of her affiliate, noting that “this new R&D hub means that there will be 250 new positions created within Switzerland. The work of the facility will focus mainly on oncology and vaccines, looking at how we can accelerate our pipeline products’ development and speed to market. Having that in-country represents a competitive advantage because we are closer to the source.”
She continued, “additionally, these researchers will interact with stakeholders in academia here and some of the experimentation in terms of data and real-life outcomes will be done here in Switzerland, where the teams are based. My team and I have more resources available to them via the international functions also located here.”
For Heirman, a Belgian national and recent arrival from Norway, “managing Switzerland is a very different challenge to managing Norway for several reasons. Norway is a smaller subsidiary where MSD imports drugs for the local market, whereas Switzerland is central to the company’s European strategy as home to our European headquarters, a manufacturing division, and a very big logistics hub. Now we are also building up an R&D site in the Zurich area.” Heirman added, “Of course, the country itself is different. Switzerland is a pharma nation where the pharmaceutical industry is an important part of the economy. Other big pharma companies also have global and regional headquarters here, which creates a very different and interesting dynamic to be part of.”
While this new facility does represent a milestone for MSD in Switzerland – a market the firm has had a presence in since 1963 – there are no plans to relocate regional headquarters from Lucerne to Zurich. Heirman explains, “As well as our new Zurich hub, we have four locations in the Lucerne area, where we continue to have a strong Cantonal commitment. Indeed, we recently signed a new lease agreement for a ‘one roof building; that will bring all our Lucerne sites together in one location by 2025. Our commitment to Switzerland is based on the environment that the country offers pharma companies like MSD and the great talent available here.”
Building on the company’s strong fundamentals in Switzerland is key to Heirman’s strategy for MSD Switzerland. She notes, “if we action our top two priorities of cultivating the best employees in the industry and creating a good access environment which we can capitalize on with the MSD portfolio we will be able to achieve the third priority, building a stronger base as a company here. This base is already strong with our different sites, over 1000 employees, and the hub in Zurich, but we want to ensure that Switzerland becomes an even stronger player within MSD globally and that MSD becomes an even more important player within the Swiss ecosystem.”