Merck & Co has appealed to biotechnology companies in the UK and the rest of Europe to approach it with innovative projects, as the drugs major looks to boost its list of alliances and consequently pipeline.

Speaking at the BioFinance and BioInnovate Europe meeting in London at the end of last week, Margaret Beer, head of licensing and external research in Europe for Merck Sharp & Dohme, noted that the newly-expanded company, fresh from its acquistion of Schering-Plough, is still very much in the market for other partnerships. She said the merger means that “Merck is now a bigger beast to feed”.

Dr Beer also acknowledged that “99% of the world’s biomedical research takes place outside our laboratories” and noted that Merck is not just interested in treatments that have made it to Phase II and beyond. “We will partner very, very early,” she said.

The company looks at around 7,000 “opportunities” a year and in 2009 signed 51 agreements. “It’s not a Friday afternoon operation,” Dr Beer claimed, describing the process which begins when Merck’s “scientific scouts” build relationships and seek out opportunities and is followed by a non-confidential information review. Face-to-face scientific meetings come next which can then lead to due diligence and a deal.

Dr Beer told attendees that if they are at conferences and meetings, “go up and talk to Merck scientists” and described the best way to send a proposal to the firm, ie email. Prospective partners need to send through a “clear, concise non-confidential scientific data package” and in terms of drugs, they must be potentially first-in-class and have solid intellectual property.

As for technologies, they do not have to be new, she said, they just need to be “faster, better and cheaper than what we already have”. Dr Beer concluded by noting that “we rarely come across an opportunity that’s unique” but partnerships are vital; last year 63% of Merck’s 2009 sales were attributable to alliance products and patents.