Merck & Co has announced plans to invest 200 million euros in a new vaccines facility in Ireland.

The US drugs giant has acquired the 65-acre IDA Technology and Business Park in Carlow Town and its investment is being made with the support of Industrial Development Agency Ireland. The facility, the first stand-alone human vaccine project in Ireland, will involve a formulation and sterile-filling operation to support a number of recently-launched vaccines, such as its cervical cancer jab Gardasil.

Merck noted that it will collaborate with Irish academic institutions in the area of biologics production and the move will lead to the creation of “a highly-skilled and technically-sophisticated workforce”, leading to 170 new jobs by 2011. The firm already employs 460 people in Ireland at its Ballydine, Co Tipperary plant, which produces active pharmaceutical ingredients and its corporate office in Leopardstown, Co Dublin.

Making the announcement, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Micheal Martin said it will provide several hundred jobs in the construction phase and subsequently “through the facility’s operation, its need for numerous specialist services, purchases of support activities, and the overall ripple effect created by such a substantial investment”. He added that “the global competition for this investment has been intense and the decision to locate it in Ireland follows an international site selection study by Merck”.

John McCubbins, Merck's vice president of global vaccine manufacturing, added that the site for this investment “required a location where we are confident the necessary skilled people, support infrastructure and track record in implementing projects of this scale exists. That is why we chose Ireland".

The deal is a boost for Ireland’s burgeoning reputation as a place for pharmaceutical investment which suffered a bit of a hiccup last month when the world’s largest biotechnology company Amgen postponed indefinitely plans to open a $1-billion manufacturing plant in Co Cork. However Amgen said at the time that the decision was merely a part of its restructuring programme and “in no way reflective of the business environment in Ireland or of the high calibre staff we have hired”.