MSD joins South San Francisco biotech community with innovative research site and hunger for collaboration

The site sits at the center of an important biotechnology hub.

Decades before it became a hive of biotechnology activity, South San Francisco was a hotspot for manufacturing technologies. In 1943, our company tapped into the city’s workforce and resources, and moved into the neighborhood after buying a milk of magnesium manufacturing facility on East Grand Avenue. Our new facility on Grand Avenue now marks our return to South San Francisco.

More than 300 people work at our company’s new regional hub in South San Francisco, and there’s room to grow – the space has capacity for nearly 500 in total. The new site is more than just a shiny building – it’s a research center set up to foster collaborations across functions, businesses and even industries. Biologists are working alongside chemists; scientists are working alongside business development colleagues; and our company will work with outside collaborators from academia and industry.

Partnering with the best in biotech

MSD Research Laboratories already has locations in London and Boston – two tremendous hotbeds for cutting-edge research – and with South San Francisco, MSD will be able to foster one of the best networks in biotechnology.

Joe Miletich, senior vice president, research and development, says, “The reason we’re here is because there’s such an incredible density of talented people who are thinking about the big questions and how do we improve things in the world, so of course we want to collaborate with them very intensely.”

Joe points out that it’s a two-way street, and our neighbors in South San Francisco are excited to welcome us, thanks to our reputation as a science-driven company: “There is a hunger in a community such as this one to be part of a company that really can take meaningful insights that are translatable into new medicines and to move them quickly and effectively and to be a good partner in that journey."

  I do believe we bring something to the area, which is our ability to really, truly accelerate projects in which we have conviction.” - Joe Miletich

Ajay Chawla, vice president, research science, says the new site is at the crossroads of biotech and academia, saying it will help our company “tie into the rest of the network,” which includes leading local academic institutions like Stanford, U.C. Berkeley and UCSF in addition to pioneering biotechnology companies.

Grace Han McMahon, executive director, business development, says the location of our new site is “critical” to our growth as a company and symbolic of our commitment to following the science within our company and with external collaborators.

She says, “Having this dynamic community here – not only does it allow for the best science to come forward, but it allows for companies like ours, where research, finding new medicines that have real impact for patients that currently don’t have treatments, is really exciting and the only way to communicate that is by having this physical presence and showing how committed we are.”

Jeff Jasper, executive director, biology discovery, says he’s excited that the new hub will help his colleagues build relationships and exchange ideas with scientists at neighboring biotechnology companies. He says, “We get to develop meaningful relationships with these [companies] that are open and honest. And I think that helps to put us in a much better position to be able to really establish collaborations with these smaller companies, versus merely a videoconference or a teleconference, because we really have taken the time to get to know them, and that really will help to spring us forward for collaborations.”

Using design to spark collaboration

Within our company, the new site’s design allows for seamless collaboration. Biologists and chemists will work right next to each other, as will teams within biology and chemistry.

Alan Northrup, executive director, chemistry, says, “We have movable benches and connections in the ceilings that allow us to place equipment and people in interesting and new ways, including biologics and small molecule analytical chemists right side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder with each other.” Moreover, the chemistry labs are no longer separated from colleagues in other functions. Instead, chemists are spread out on each of the different floors of the buildings so they can interact more easily with the biologists.

Looking ahead to a future that saves and improves lives

With its sleek, all-glass design that stands tall next to its biotech neighbors, our new building symbolizes the ambitious hopes we have for our future. Ajay believes that the new site’s location will attract some of the area’s most talented scientists. He says, “People are attracted here because of the ability to really make medicines that impact people's lives. That singular mission is what drives the workforce and continues to attract young scientists to join our company.” Ajay says that mission is our differentiator, and helps us recruit the best talent and technologies from both academia and biotechnology.

Joe Miletich already has a vision for the future. He says, “I hope that the future scientists and future employees of our company revisit this site at some point in the future and say, ‘This is where the medicine that made it possible for people to live lives of much higher quality was invented and discovered and introduced to the rest of our company to develop both here and around the world.’” He adds, “I believe it’s not only possible – I believe it is in our future. It will happen.”