Merck & Co. Opens Cambridge Exploratory Science Center, Plans to Hire 30 More Employees

Merck Opens Cambridge Exploratory Science Center, Plans to Hire 30 More Employees January 24, 2017
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. –The end of 2016 brought a new beginning with Merck ’s opening of its new Exploratory Science Center (ESC) in Cambridge, a cutting edge facility that will focus on early discovery research. The Cambridge ESC has been established to fuel early scientific exploration, Daria Hazuda, vice president of infectious diseases and vaccines discovery at Merck Research Laboratories (MRL) and chief scientific officer of the MRL Cambridge ESC, told BioSpace.

“As such, the site is designed to be disease-area-agnostic, providing researchers the nimbleness and flexibility to explore the most promising science. As the site launches, initial exploratory areas include host-pathogen biology and understanding the role of the microbiome in disease processes,” Hazuda said.

The Cambridge ESC opened at the end of December and currently operates with a team of about 15 researchers. However, the number of employees is expected to grow in the first part of this year. Merck anticipates that the site will be fully staffed with approximately 40 to 45 employees within the first half of 2017, Joe Miletich, senior vice president of discovery, preclinical and early development at Merck Research Laboratories (MRL), said in an email to BioSpace. A few of the employees at the ESC have transferred from other Merck research facilities, but the majority of the team will be new hires, Miletich said.

The Cambridge ESC is co-located with the company’s Business Development and Licensing (BD&L) colleagues in Cambridge. The teams are working closely to raise visibility of the ESC’s research interests and to identify and connect with potential collaborators, Hazuda said.

In December, both teams hosted a symposium to focus on the study of interactions between the host immune system and invasive pathogens—one of the ESC’s initial areas of research focus, Hazuda said. The next co-sponsored symposium is being planned for late spring, and will bring together thought leaders in microbiome research.

Although small, Miletich said collaborations have already begun between the ESC and Merck’s broad discovery network, including Merck’s West Point and Boston Longwood sites.

Miletich said the ESC is a small and intimate facility that is focused on the early-stage discovery research in order to “better understand human disease biology.” Comparatively, Merck’s nearby Boston facility is an integrated discovery research center with roughly 400 employees. He said the Cambridge laboratory is designed to enable earlier access to emerging biology and technologies, which will augment researchers’ understanding of leading discovery and development capabilities in order to fuel Merck’s future pipeline growth.

The facility is one of two new discovery sites the biopharma giant is opening. The company is constructing a west coast site in South San Francisco that is planned to open in 2019. In the meantime, expanded west coast operations are underway, working out of a temporary site. The company’s longstanding discovery research activities in Palo Alto will be transitioned to South San Francisco when the new research facility opens.

“In discovery research, we are constantly looking for a greater diversity of new insights and approaches that will lead us to a deeper understanding of human disease biology so that we can continually improve our ability to discover high impact medicines and vaccines,” Miletich said. “The goal of our new discovery sites, in Cambridge and South San Francisco, is to bring new expertise and capabilities to Merck that complement our existing R&D strengths, and to more fully integrate within these important biomedical ecosystems to encourage increased external collaboration.”

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