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Merck opens new S$20m lab offering biosafety testing services

The Business Times by JANICE HENG


PHARMACEUTICAL firms in Asia can get quicker, more accessible testing services for their biological drug products from Merck's first BioReliance laboratory in the region, part of the pharmaceutical giant's new S$20 million, 3,800-square-metre facility in Singapore which was officially opened on Tuesday.

Designed based on feedback from customers in Asia, the BioReliance biosafety testing lab offers services such as lot release testing, which ensures clients' products are safe for release, and viral clearance, which validates the ability of clients' manufacturing processes to remove viral contamination. It also provides biorepository cell banking: helping clients store copies of the cell lines used in their production, to mitigate risks and provide greater convenience.

Previously, Asia-based customers would have had to work with Merck's two other BioReliance labs, located in the United States and United Kingdom. The new Singapore lab allows for a faster turnaround as it shares a similar time zone with Asia-based customers. Customers will also save on travel costs when visiting Merck's facilities for viral clearance services.

As an existing hub for many pharmaceutical multinationals, including those with a significant manufacturing footprint here, Singapore was a logical choice for the company's first Asian BioReliance lab, said Merck Life Science's head of global process solutions Andrew Bulpin.

Merck's customers include Singapore-based Tessa Therapeutics, which makes cancer cell therapy products. With the new BioReliance lab here, the firm will no longer have to send products to Scotland for lot release testing, which could "save weeks in terms of the overall manufacturing process", said chief scientific officer John Connolly. "For a cancer patient, this is a major improvement."

Besides the BioReliance lab, existing Merck facilities in Singapore have also moved to the new location in the Science Park's Ascent building.

These include its M Lab Collaboration Center, which helps clients optimise every step of their production process; the Media Development Services Lab, which helps clients develop and customise the culture media on which cells are grown; and the imMEDIAte Advantage Lab, which helps to formulate such cell culture media for production.

"The establishment of Merck's biosafety testing lab will strengthen Singapore's competitiveness as a leading global site for biologics manufacturing," said Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) chairman Beh Swan Gin.

The government remains committed to the biomedical sciences industry as a key economic driver, said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon at the opening ceremony. Dr Koh highlighted investments in infrastructure, technology and talent, including Merck's training of 30 local scientists in partnership with the EDB.

Noting that closer collaboration within the industry would improve Singapore's overall competitiveness, Mr Koh welcomed Merck to be actively engaged in the government's efforts to strengthen the biomedical sciences ecosystem.