The Brain Train: Merck Partners With CDRD To Launch Exciting Post-Doctoral Fellowship Program

In the controversial world of pharmaceuticals, drug giant Merck has shown an ability to sustainably manage both risk and reward. What's interesting, is that while one might expect an industry leader like Merck to stand still as the global economy restabilizes, Merck's behavior over the last year has been decidedly different. In fact, just this past week, Merck has announced a number of new exciting initiatives in both the education and research arena; initiatives, that will help improve the company's competitive positioning while positively impacting the company's brand and brand perception.

Earlier this week, the Canadian Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD) announced that they have created a new, jointly sponsored Post-Doctoral Fellowship position to complement their already budding Post Doctoral Fellowship research program. This position will expand the CDRD's portfolio, and will be sponsored by both the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research and Merck Canada. According to the CDRD's Senior Vice President, Business & Strategic Affairs, Karimah Es Sabar, “A key element of CDRD’s mandate is to provide the next generation of highly qualified drug development personnel, and CDRD’s training program in drug development is truly unique – combining the best elements of industrial and academic based settings. This post-doctoral candidate will be a key member of our research teams and will gain a broad range of experience from many innovative projects and the mentorship provided at CDRD.”

CDRD’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Program offers early-career scientists the opportunity to contribute to and learn from the expertise of the CDRD staff. CDRD’s Post Doctoral Fellows work closely with the Heads at their site or CDRD, conducting experiments, leading data management and generating reports, and helping them build a commercially attractive project package. In a recent press release, Dr. John Challis, President & CEO at the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, noted that "As a long-time supporter of early-career scientists, we are pleased to partner on this unique opportunity for post-doctoral fellows. Advancing the experience and knowledge in this field is critical to our ongoing growth in Canadian health research.” Additionally, Patricia Massetti, Vice-President, Public Affairs and Patient Access, echoed these statements, noting that "Merck is pleased to partner with CDRD and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research for the advancement of scientific knowledge by sponsoring this post-doctoral fellowship program. This initiative is an example of Merck's ongoing commitment to health research and innovation in British Columbia and Canada."

While this announcement has continued to strengthened Merck's reputation as an international supporter of research and education, Merck has also remained active in the mergers, diverstures, and acquisitions arena. In fact, on February 28, 2011, Fujifilm announced that it had reached an agreement with Merck & Co. under which Fujifilm will acquire the Merck BioManufacturing Network, a contract biopharmaceutical manufacturing and development business of Merck that provides contract-manufacturing services for recombinant proteins, vaccines, and monoclonal antibodies. Under the agreement, Fujifilm will purchase all of the equity interests in two Merck subsidiaries, Diosynth RTP and MSD Biologics (UK). Together, these two entities own all assets of the Merck BioManufacturing Network. The network consists of facilities of Diosynth in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and MSD Biologics (UK) in Billingham, United Kingdom, as well as the related manufacturing contracts, business-support operations, and workforce. As part of the agreement, Merck will continue to support development and manufacturing activities with these two companies. According to a recent press release by Shigetaka Komori, president and CEO of Fujifilm, Mr. Komori noted that "This acquisition provides an important addition to our pharmaceutical business with diverse capabilities and technical expertise in production of protein therapeutics."

While initial reactions were mixed, a review of the transaction reveals that both parties are poised to reap significant benefits once the sale is approved. Over the last 5 years, Merck has built its contract biopharmaceutical business primarily through acquisitions. In late 2009, Merck acquired the Billingham site from the contract-manufacturing organization Avecia. Diosynth was part of Akzo Nobel, and in 2007, Schering-Plough acquired the human and animal-health business of Akzo Nobel. Merck acquired Schering-Plough in 2009. Following these acquisitions, Merck/MSD combined its biopharmaceutical manufacturing services businesses in the United States and U.K. into the Merck BioManufacturing Network, establishing what has arguably become one of the world's leading biopharmaceutical contract manufacturing organizations. In reviewing the proposed transaction details, Merck stands to receive compensation that will both significantly improve its liquidity while also accelerating development amonst its other product lines. Moreover, following the transaction, Merck/MSD will become a key Fujifilm customer that will continue to benefit from the expertise and experience of the combined businesses in biologics development and manufacturing. Finally, while Fujifilm will gain a successful revenue producing entity, Merck stands to further eliminate prevailing duplication within its manufacturing operations, while also improving its overall corporate liquidity.

Nathaniel Payne is a researcher and teaching assistant from Simon Fraser University's Beedie School of Business. He is also an instructor in the School of Business at The British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT).