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UK government unveils pharma research HQ coup

Published on 27/11/17 at 09:09am

The UK government’s Autumn Budget struck a gloomy note for the economy, with figures pointing towards low productivity and the likelihood of slowing growth in the years to come.

With Brexit negotiations progressing at a snail’s pace, the government needed a boost to show that its economic plans were proving fruitful and they have released news that will allow them to claim some success.

This comes in the form of MSD’s investment in a research hub in the UK, with the company (known as Merck in North America) pumping up to £1 billion into the facility and creating 950 roles to staff the facility. The “Discovery Centre” will be based in London and the company hopes to have the facility ready by 2020.

Greg Clark, UK Business Secretary, heralded the move as a mark of the UK’s ability to draw investment: “Our life sciences sector is one of the UK’s fastest developing industries, with a turnover in excess of £64 billion, employing 233,000 across the UK. MSD’s commitment today, and the wider Sector Deal investment we have secured, proves the process outlined in the Industrial Strategy can give companies the confidence and direction they need to invest in the UK. It will ensure Britain continues to be at the forefront of innovation and represents a huge vote of confidence in our Industrial Strategy.”

The UK government has touted the life sciences industry as one that can drive growth, regardless of the outcome of negotiations. Admittedly, this angle sustained a blow almost immediately after the Brexit decision – when it became clear that the EMA headquarters would be leaving London, settling on Amsterdam as its preferred location.

However, it seems that the UK government has scored several successes in encouraging life sciences companies to invest in the UK – with further announcements expected over the next few weeks signposting the country’s competitiveness in the field. One is expected from GSK, one of the big two pharma companies that calls the country its home – the other being AstraZeneca.

“We believe London to be a unique bioscience centre of excellence and a key component of the established golden triangle for academic science of London-Oxford-Cambridge,” said Louise Houson, Managing Director of MSD in the UK and Ireland. “This investment presents a major opportunity for us to work in collaboration with the UK Government to build on the forward thinking and ambitious Industrial Strategy White Paper published by the Government today.”

Alongside the announcement of MSD’s facility, there was also the announcement that Qiagen, a provider of sample and assay technologies for molecular diagnostics, would also build a facility in Manchester. This would also provide a boost of 800 roles, through the development of a genomics campus.

Ben Hargreaves

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