Pharmaceutical giant MSD – part of the US group Merck – has been given the go-ahead for plans to build a new biologics facility in Swords, Co Dublin, that will employ 350.

MSD has said that number could rise in the future.

An average of 700 construction workers will be involved in the project, hitting a peak of 1,000 over a nine-month period.

The new plant is set to open in 2021, with construction set to start this year.

MSD manufactures a range of products, including treatments for heart and lung health, cancer and infectious diseases.

It has said that the development at Swords will play a “pivotal role” in the manufacture of MSD’s biologics-based medicines, where cell-cultured drug substances are used to make products such as immune-oncology treatments.

The Swords plant will make a drug substance called Keytruda, also known as Pembrolizumab. The facility will manufacture mammalian cell culture-based protein therapeutics.

Keytruda is currently manufactured by MSD in the Netherlands and at contract manufacturing sites in Germany and the United States.

MSD said the new Swords facility will bring the ability to manufacture “life-changing and life-saving medicines to patients worldwide”.

The state-of-the-art plant will be built on the site of MSD’s former women’s healthcare manufacturing business, whose transfer to the Netherlands was completed in 2016. That operation employed almost 600 people at the site.

MSD had originally intended to sell the 33-acre site in Swords, with other pharmaceutical firms having been predicted to be potentially interested in the facility. It had been expected to fetch as much as €25m.

MSD has had a presence on the site since 1990, and has manufactured products such as contraceptives, fertility treatments, hormone replacement therapies and products used in the treatment of mental health.

But as MSD formulated plans for a new biologics plant, the facility in Swords became the favourite option for the investment. It will transform an existing 13,000 sq m warehouse building on the site into the core biopharmaceutical manufacturing operation.

The existing warehouse will also be extended, as will the existing manufacturing and packaging facilities. New laboratory and warehouse facilities will also be constructed.

The development will increase the existing floor are of the MSD facility from 31,700 sq m to about 43,700 sq m.

The site is strategically located close to the M1 and M50 motorways, as well as Dublin Airport.

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