Merck shifts 300+ jobs away from Pa., N.J. - Updates

Biologists (from left) Yaping Liu, Greg O'Donnell, Patrick Mattern and Dan Riley review data in an automated technology lab at Merck in North Wales in 2010.

Merck Research Laboratories is shifting jobs from its old manufacturing centers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey towards hotter biomedical research areas around Boston and San Francisco. 

Merck's 3,600-employee Discovery, Pre-Clinical and Early Development group is cutting "less than 10 percent," or between 300 and 360 jobs, from sites in North Wales, Montgomery County; Rahway, N.J.; and Kenilworth, N.J., near the company's headquarters, says spokeswoman Lainie Keller. The sites will remain open.

Merck "is increasing our investment in exploratory biology in areas where biomedical research is converging, specifically in Cambridge, Massachusetts (home to Harvard University, where Merck has facilities). and the San Francisco Bay area," said Keller.  "Unfortunately, these changes will result in workforce reductions" at the company's North Wales drug-screening facility and the New Jersey sites "as we shift resources and personnel." 

After layoffs in recent years, Merck employs around 12,500 in central Montgomery County, mostly in Lower Gwynedd and Upper Gwynedd (West Point) townships.

The company employed around 15,000 in Pennsylvania, mostly at the same locations, in the mid-2000s.  The Philadelphia area, with half a dozen medical schools, has long been a center of U.S. drug development.

In recent years the Boston area, and other developing biopharma hotbeds, have been luring drug company jobs away from suburban office parks around Philadelphia and New York.  

Last year, Shire Pharmaceuticals moved 500 R&D and sales jobs to suburban Boston from Chesterbrook.  AstraZeneca has moved or cut more than half the 5,000 jobs formerly located at its U.S. 202 headquarters between Wilmington, Del. and Glen Mills, Pa., selling half the campus to JPMorgan Chase, as the British-Swedish drugmaker moved work to Waltham, Mass. and Gaithersburg, Md. 

Pfizer Inc., Novartis AG and Sanofi SA each moved research jobs from the New York area to Cambridge, Mass. in recent years, the Boston Globe says here.  

 Merck's latest "contraction and realignment" was reported earlier today by Derek Lowe in his blog, published by Translational Science Medicine, here.  

 Merck is reducing "disease area biology" staff at Kenilworth, with some employees "offered a chance to move to the Boston or Bay area sites," with decisions to be made by September, Lowe concluded.  More changes are likely "in the next few weeks," he added.