Sebastian Arana Discusses Merck's Strategic Expansion in Asia-Pacific Through Innovative Bioprocessing Facility in Daejeon, South Korea

02 April 2024 | Tuesday | Interview

Merck's Executive Vice President, Sebastian Arana, Highlights Daejeon's Role in Global Health Innovations and Biopharma Advancements

In an illuminating interview with BioPharma APAC, Sebastian Arana, Executive Vice President and Global Head of Process Solutions at Merck, shares insights into the company's momentous decision to invest in Daejeon, South Korea. Arana provides a deep dive into Merck's strategic considerations, emphasizing the alignment with the rapidly evolving biopharma sector. With a focus on advancing public health and addressing critical drug demands, Merck's new Bioprocessing Production Center stands as a testament to its commitment to innovation in Asia-Pacific. Arana further explores the center's impact on job creation, collaborative partnerships, and its role in shaping the future of global healthcare delivery.


What motivated Merck to choose Daejeon, South Korea, as the location for its largest investment in the Asia-Pacific region to date?

How does the new Bioprocessing Production Center align with Merck's long-term strategy for the Life Science business sector, particularly in the context of the fast-growing biologics market? / With a significant investment in expanding capacity and capabilities globally, how does the Daejeon facility fit into Merck's overall vision for contributing to public health and addressing the demand for critical drugs?

This investment is a direct result of our evolved Life Science strategy, focused on strengthening our core business and expanding in high-growth areas. That includes raising our ambition in Asia-Pacific (APAC) to enhance our support level across the region and share technological expertise with customers amid growth. 

With this in mind, we have assessed several countries in detail, based on the evaluation of critical factors. That includes market dynamics, operational consideration, qualified talent and government-related factors, such as political stability, policy and regulatory landscape. 

With a thriving life science industry and ecosystem, well-established infrastructure and a highly skilled workforce, South Korea is a great fit for a potential investment to further grow and support our Life Science business in the APAC region. 

Merck Korea was established in 1989. To-date we have 13 production and R&D sites, including the M Lab™ Collaboration Center in Songdo, Incheon to serve our biopharmaceutical and pharmaceutical customers in South Korea and the rest of the Asia Pacific region.

Merck’s new bioprocessing production site in Daejeon, South Korea is part of Merck’s multi-year investment program. Our life science strategy looks to increase the capacity and capabilities of Merck’s Life Science business sector in the region to support the growing global demand for critical drugs and to make significant contributions to public health. 


Can you elaborate on the types of jobs the new facility will create and the skills you're looking for in potential candidates to support the center's innovative bioprocessing capabilities?


Covering an area of 43,000 square meters, the facility will include advanced production capacities, a distribution center and an automated warehouse. We plan to add approximately 300 new jobs in our new bioprocessing production center in Daejeon by 2028. We will be looking to staff the new center with essential positions, including:

  • bioprocessing engineers, who are responsible for designing, optimizing, and overseeing the bioprocessing operations, ensuring efficient production of biological products for our customers.
  • quality control specialists, who are responsible to ensure that products meet regulatory standards and specifications through rigorous testing and monitoring throughout the production process.
  • supply chain and distribution personnel, who are responsible for managing the procurement of raw materials, scheduling of production runs, and distributing of finished products.


Given the emphasis on collaboration with local institutions and companies, what specific partnerships or programs does Merck plan to establish to foster innovation in biotechnology, mRNA, and gene therapy within the Asia-Pacific region?


For Merck, partnering with local institutions is a key element in fostering innovation in biologics, mRNA, and gene therapy which are needed for life saving therapies and drugs. Over the years, we have been working with customers from across the Asia Pacific region in extending our strategic partnerships such as skills development, training/knowledge transfer and collaboration. 


Most recently, we signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with South Korea's Daewoong Pharmaceutical to build an artificial intelligence (AI)-based new drug development platform and provide technology support for the entire cycle of the development process. Separately we inked an agreement with GI Innovation, a local Korean bio-venture company, to further research and development of critical life-saving cancer treatments, as well as drugs for allergy-related conditions. Under this partnership, Merck will support GI Innovation with technologies and services including CHOZN® platform, cell culture media, and overall process consulting and technical support.


In India, Merck is partnering CSIR-Institute of Microbial Technology (IMTECH) to establish a High-Tech Skill Development Centre where Indian students and researchers can learn the latest genome-editing and single-molecule biomolecule biomarker detection technologies from Merck experts. 


We are open and actively seeking collaborations to accelerate scientific progress and improving life and health with science. 


How will the new center's capabilities, including the production of dry powder cell culture media and process liquids, impact the speed and efficiency of bringing new therapies to patients globally?


Merck’s new Bioprocessing Production Center will be producing essential biotech products such as dry powder cell culture media, process liquids, pre-GMP small-scale manufacturing and sterile sampling systems. Proximity to these products will enhance customer’s access to these critical solutions for biologics research and manufacturing in Korea and throughout the entire Asia Pacific region.


Biologics is one of the fastest-growing class of drugs. Biologics are derived from large and complex biological compounds and include products like vaccines, cell and gene therapies, or protein-based therapies, such as monoclonal antibodies. The new facility will support biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies in process development, clinical research and commercial manufacturing of biologics.





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