At Merck, desire to be fully involved in state’s life science community played role in consolidating HQ in Rahway

Alston: ‘It's not about us being competitors, it's about us collaborating and making sure that we, together, in the pharmaceutical industry, are meeting unmet medical needs’

Paula Alston, who leads the global workplace and enterprise services organization at Merck, can easily rattle off why it was important for Merck to again identify Rahway as its global headquarters — and how it will benefit from having all of its departments on the same campus.

But the announcement earlier this week was about more than just getting the gang back together again on the more than 200-acre site that has led to so many of the company’s massive bio achievements over the past 100 years.

It was about being able to fully take advantage of New Jersey’s life science and pharma sector, she said.

Whether it’s Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi or Novartis, or what will be taking place at the HELIX in New Brunswick or the planned life sciences hub in Kenilworth (on a campus Merck is consolidating from), Austin said being immersed in this life science area is good for the company — and good for society.

“It’s not about us being competitors, it’s about us collaborating and making sure that we, together, in the pharmaceutical industry, are meeting unmet medical needs,” she said.

“We believe that great innovation comes from different areas. So, we want to make sure that we continue to partner, and we continue to see wherever there are opportunities for us to leverage each other.”

Merck was noted for its eagerness and willingness to partner with other pharma companies during the early stages of the pandemic.

Merck, in fact, has made purpose over profit a key to its mission since its earliest days.

“And what better way than to be in central New Jersey (where) we continue to exploit those opportunities,” Alston said.

Of course, so many of those opportunities will come internally.

Merck, which has had its headquarters in Rahway in the past (as well as on a massive campus at Whitehouse Station), has never been so consolidated, Alston said.

She said it is the first time the company has had all of its divisional leads — everything from manufacturing to research to animal health — on one campus.

“Think about the power of how we can now harness a lot of the collaboration and integration between all the different functions to again deliver on our strategy facility,” she said.

As global head of facilities, that has long been a priority for Alston.

“We have a global footprint, so it’s my job to ensure that we continue to optimize where we can — and ensure that we continue to bring that exceptional employee experience around the globe,” she said. “We want to make sure that our employees have what they need to be innovative and collaborative. And really to unleash the innovative juices so that we can continue to deliver medicines across the globe.”

Rob Davis. (File photo)

CEO Rob Davis, who was not made available for comment after the ceremony, said during his address that being together as a company makes this mission easier.

“When you think of what it takes to ideate, to innovate, to invent — it takes collaboration, it takes teamwork, it takes all of us focused on what matters most, which is putting the patients at the center of everything we do and delivering with urgency on their behalf,” he said.

“And we’re now able to do that, again, as one unified Merck, at this facility.”

It’s why the company recently opened its new FLEx Center, a $450 million investment in a learning and manufacturing facility.

Company officials said it reflects Merck’s commitment to bringing medicines and vaccines to patients at unparalleled speed — and its long-term commitment to Rahway.

“We want to underscore the importance of New Jersey as the hub for pharmaceutical and discovery and innovation,” Alston said. “What we think about at Merck, and this site in particular, is we have over a century of experiments, research that has come through this pipeline.

“So, when you think about continuing to harness that, we recognize that this will play a critical role in our ability to continue to drive our mission.

“This campus has served that purpose that mission across the globe and we feel that it’s important to reestablish our roots and continue to drive it from New Jersey.”