Merck & Co. Plans to Open Microbiome R&D Site in Former Idenix Facility in Cambridge

Merck Plans to Open Microbiome R&D Site in Former Idenix Facility in Cambridge July 14, 2016
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

CAMBRDIGE, Mass. – We now know where Merck ’s planned Cambridge microbiome R&D site site will be located—in the 50,000 square foot complex formerly owned by Idenix Pharmaceuticals , a company Merck snapped up in 2014.

As of now, it is not known how many people Merck will employ at the new site, but the Boston Business Journal noted that when Idenix used the site, the company kept 65 people on staff there. Merck plans for the site to be open later this year, a company spokesperson told the Journal. The former Idenix space includes large laboratory and office space.

Merck’s new facility will focus “on emerging science, agnostic of therapeutic area," a company spokesperson told the Journal. The site will be led by Daria Hazuda, Merck’s head of infectious-disease discovery research.

This site in Cambridge isn’t Merck’s only R&D facility in the area. Since 2004, the company has operated a 300,000 square-foot facility near Longwood, Mass. and of course maintains a presence in the dense biotech hub of Kendall Square in Cambridge.

The microbiome is the collection of trillions of microbes that live in and on the human body. In recent years, scientists have found that the microbiome plays a crucial role in many areas of human biology and disease. Biological therapy uses natural or artificial substances that mimic or block natural cell responses to kill, control or change the behavior of cancer cells. Evelo has been in the process of developing a next-generation approach to immuno-oncology that goes beyond check-point inhibitors and CAR-T cell therapies.

Merck’s microbiome research is being bolstered by an initiative launched by the White House earlier this spring. With more than $500 million in federal and private funding, the White house is supporting the integrated study of microbiomes across different ecosystem to develop therapeutics. Merck has announced plans to shift some of its resources gaining early access to “emerging external science and technology to augment our leading discovery and development capabilities.” However that shift of focus, combined with moves to have more employees in the pharma hubs of the Boston and Bay Area, is causing the company to eliminate some positions, about 360, BioSpace reported earlier this week.

Merck will not be the only company in the Boston area to have a focus on the microbiome. Flagship Ventures companies Seres Therapeutics and Evelo BioSciences also have a focus on the microbiome. This week Evelo merged with another Flagship Ventures company focused on the microbiome—Epiva BioSciences. The two companies combined their research to become to become the leading immuno-microbiome platform company in the U.S. Both founded in 2014, merged merged under the banner of Evelo Biosciences with a focus on the development of immuno-microbiome-based therapeutics for cancer, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

Back to news