Merck & Co says its six-month search to find a buyer for two of its research sites in the Netherlands belonging to affiliate Organon has foundered, renewing fears they will be closed.

Last year, the US major announced restructuring details following its merger with Schering-Plough (through which it acquired Organon) and announced the closure of eight research sites and eight manufacturing facilities. Two research sites in the Netherlands, Oss and Schaijk, were set to be shuttered but Merck then said it would look at alternatives; a December deadline for possible closure was put back to this week.

However, in a statement sent to PharmaTimes World News, the company says that "unfortunately the investigation has not resulted in a viable external business development alternative to a restructuring of the R&D activities in Oss and Schaijk". Since last September, "several external parties have been approached and extensive discussions have taken place", but "no viable alternative could be found that met the needs of the company, the shareholder and all stakeholders who have been part of this process".

A number of companies had been mentioned as potential buyers, notably Japan's Takeda, South Africa's Aspen Pharmacare Holdings and the Dutch group Pantarhei. Closure of the sites could led to a loss of up to nearly 2,200 research jobs.

Head of MSD-Organon, Joep Pluymen, noted that the company has now begun to explore "internal possibilities that could preserve a number of R&D jobs, and that under this scenario, part of R&D may form a small centre of excellence in the global company". Decisions on possible next steps will be made in the next few weeks and if a viable internal solution is found, works councils will be consulted.

Mr Pluymen stressed that Merck remains committed to MSD-Organon and that the company's affiliates "collectively remain the largest pharmaceutical employer in the Netherlands", with currently more than 6,700 staff. The Oss site is also "an important global manufacturing centre for Merck’s pharmaceutical and biologics products and the company will continue to invest and to optimise efficiency in this area".

The Organon chief concluded by saying that while the news "does not resolve the deep uncertainty many colleagues are feeling, we remain committed to exploring constructive solutions and pledge to continue to keep employees and the community informed".