Merck & Co is to close its manufacturing facility in Co Wicklow, Ireland by the end of 2015, a move which will lead to the loss of 280 jobs.

The US major noted that activities at the Rathdrum plant will start to be phased out in 2014 but no staff reductions are anticipated until the end of next year. Site director John Smith noted that “Rathdrum has been a significant manufacturing site since 1961 and has a long history of operational excellence", adding that the closure "is not a reflection of the site’s performance or the highly-skilled people working there".

The move is part of Merck's ongoing review of its global manufacturing capacities and the company plans to relocate products manufactured in Rathdrum to sites in Ballydine, Co Tipperary and Singapore, as well as to third-party manufacturers.

Merck concluded by saying it is "committed to dealing with all affected employees with dignity and respect, and will provide appropriate support between now and the cessation of manufacturing activities at the site". It will also work with the Irish government and its investment promotion agency IDA Ireland "to identify parties that may be interested in purchasing the site".

Merck also employs some 2,000 people at sites in Carlow, Cork, Dublin and Tipperary and these facilities are not affected by the Rathdrum announcement.

Perlmutter returns to Merck as Kim retires

Meantime, Merck has named ex-Amgen research chief Roger Perlmutter as its new R&D head, replacing Peter Kim, who is retiring after ten years in the post.

The company said that "to ensure a seamless transition", the two will work closely together for an initial period. Dr Perlmutter's appointment as president of Merck Research Laboratories is effective from April 15 and Dr Kim will remain as an advisor until his retirement in August.

Dr Perlmutter actually joined Merck in 1997 and rose to the post of head of worldwide basic research and preclinical development. He left (after clashing with Merck's then-chief executive Raymond Gilmartin) to become head of R&D at Amgen  in January 2001. He was at the biotech major until February 2012, when he retired as a new leadership team took over.