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Pharmaceutical innovator in Flanders: the MSD story

Leading pharmaceutical company MSD – known as Merck in the US and Canada – has been active in Flanders since 1973 and has several operations in Flanders.  It  manages a sales office, a production facility and global distribution activities in Belgium’s northern region. According to Bart Schouteden, finance director at the Heist production facility, the medicines that are produced in Flanders are distributed across over 120 countries.

MSD production plant in Heist-op-den-berg (Flanders, Belgium)

Major engagement

"Our job is to improve people’s lives by bringing medicines to the market on time,” Bart explains. “The production of medicines can’t just stop, because many patients rely on them – and us."  

No wonder MSD’s mission statement is ‘we improve lives’, which doesn’t just apply to the patients, but to its employees as well. Bart: “We invest heavily in training and keeping our people engaged. One example of this are the daily briefings during which we make sure everything is running smoothly, people can come up with new ideas or report potential issues. This way, we make sure everyone is heard.”

Specialized packaging and production

In addition to a sales office in Brussels, MSD operates a production site in Heist-op-den-Berg (Flanders) that employs a total of 900 people. The Flanders production site houses four business units:

  • Production and packaging of tablets
  • Production and packaging of liquids, ointments and creams
  • Production, filling and packaging of sterile products (vials, ampuls, syringes, etc.)
  • Packaging of biotech products

 “One of our main activities in Heist-op-den-Berg is the packaging of our immunotherapy cancer medicine Keytruda, which, according to GlobalData, is on track to becoming the medicine with the highest turnover in the world. From our site in Flanders, Keytruda is distributed around the globe.”

Optimized processes via MPS

To make sure this sensitive cargo is produced and packaged in the most efficient and secure way possible, MSD has invested in optimizing its processes. Bart: “This includes new machines to increase production capacity, but also adopting certain methodologies. For example, we implemented the Merck Production System (MPS) – analogous to the well-known Toyota Production System (TPS). Bart: “MPS is an integrated production system that allows us to design, manage, and continuously improve our operations and supporting business processes, enabled through the development of our people.”

From Flanders’ government, we receive an 80% exemption on professional withholding tax for the wages of our PhD’s and science or engineering masters and bachelors who perform R&D activities. The total withholding exemption for bachelor’s degrees is capped at 25% of the total withholding exemption applied for master’s and doctoral degrees.

Bart Schouteden
finance director, MSD (Heist-op-den-Berg)

Innovation supported by Flanders

MSD’s pharmaceutical innovations can also count on financial support from Flanders, Bart: “From Flanders’ government, we receive an 80% exemption on professional withholding tax for the wages of our PhD’s and science or engineering masters and bachelors who perform R&D activities. The total withholding exemption for bachelor’s degrees is capped at 25% of the total withholding exemption applied for master’s and doctoral degrees.”

Boosting talent in the sector with ViTalent

Another reason for MSD to set up activities in Flanders was its collaborative ecosystem. Bart: “MSD teamed up with other big pharma companies present in the local pharma industry – such as Pfizer, J&J and Novartis and unions and government institutions to set up the non-profit organization ViTalent. This initiative offers education to people looking for jobs in the pharmaceutical industry in Flanders, as well as extra training to pharma employees who want to expand their potential. ViTalent is set to start its activities in 2021.”

More info

MSD
Reported by
Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT)
5 August 2020

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