US Merck (MSD globally) is following through on a 2017 commitment to invest in a new early research hub in central London, with plans to open the ‘London Discovery Research Centre’ by 2025.
Having announced that the hub would be built in 2017, one year after the UK’s vote to leave the European Union and as part of a pledge to support post-Brexit Britain, MSD is finally moving ahead with the plan. The project had been subject to delays caused by the challenges of finding appropriate space in the UK’s capital near to the Francis Crick Institute with which MSD has a five-year neuroscience R&D deal.
Construction is now slated to begin by late 2021, with completion by 2025; five years later than the original date proposed. Most staff at the new base will relocate from the firm’s existing UK facilities, but the 25,000 square metre site will host 120 new jobs for scientists and technicians among its expected 800-strong staff total.
The centre will be MSD’s first outside of its home market of the US to carry out early stage research, focusing particularly on diseases of ageing and neuroscience.
We currently view the UK as a world leader in developing science
David Peacock, MSD UK & Ireland
Speaking to the FT, MSD’s managing director for the UK and Ireland David Peacock said, “We currently view the UK as a world leader in developing science, driven by the long-term emphasis on building a strong research and development infrastructure.” He added, “We look forward to being an active participant in the UK’s bioscience community.”
With the UK’s exit from the Brexit transition period confirmed for December 31st 2020, MSD’s announcement comes as a boon for the British government keen to continue to attract investment to the country and to play up the significance of its life sciences industry. Nadhim Zahawi, life sciences minister, said the company’s decision “demonstrates a firm commitment by MSD to the UK’s thriving life sciences sector.”
One possible roadblock to the site’s planning application is resistance from heritage and conservation groups. They claim that the proposed nine-storey structure is too large and out of keeping with the historic neighbourhood in which it will be located, close to Kings Cross and St Pancras railway stations as well as Georgian terraced houses. Only once planning permission is approved from the council for the London Borough of Camden can work begin.