Merck Animal Health amps up animal vaccine production with $100M manufacturing injection

herd cattle
Merck Animal Health will inject $100 million into its DeSoto, Kansas, plant to scale up animal vaccine development. (GettyImages)

While most pharmaceutical companies—including Merck itself—are moving at breakneck speeds to develop a COVID-19 shot for humans, the company's animal health division is plotting a new investment to keep animals inoculated against other diseases, too.

Merck Animal Health—the global animal health division of the New Jersey-based drug giant—said it would inject $100 million into its manufacturing site in DeSoto, Kansas, to scale up vaccine production and pave the way for future research in the field.

The Merck unit will funnel that $100 million into a technological expansion of its vaccine production facility at the DeSoto site—expected to come online this year—and has earmarked an extra $66 million for undisclosed enhancements in the near future.

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The DeSoto site currently makes vaccines for cows, pigs and horses and houses large-scale fermentation and cell culture capabilities. It also completes blending, filling and packaging work for Merck's animal vaccines and cranks out antibodies used to treat diseases in pets. Merck Animal Health also boasts manufacturing and distribution sites in Delaware, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska.

Merck's plans for its DeSoto plant follow an acquisition spree of sorts, with the unit ponying up more than $4 billion to beef up its livestock portfolio and add pet gadgets and big data into its technology mix.

Back in 2016, some analysts speculated that Merck might sell off its animal health division, but that talk quieted when the company shelled out $400 million to gain a controlling stake in Brazil-based Vallée and its large animal drug portfolio. Vallée was initially founded to create a vaccine for foot-and-mouth disease in Brazilian cattle, but it quickly branched out into Mexico, Bolivia and other Latin American countries before Merck knocked at its door.

Then, in 2018, Merck scooped up France-based Antelliq—a company that specializes in digital ID and tracking for pets and livestock—to the tune of €3.25 billion. That deal gave Merck access to Antelliq's consumer products, including Fitbit-style activity trackers for dogs, microchip-controlled cat doors and more, along with commercial tech used by farmers to track livestock along their path to market.

And earlier this year, the animal health unit nabbed Quantified AG, a Nebraska-based analytics company that tracks body temperature and movement in cows to detect disease. Merck Animal Health used that acquisition to bolster its Allflex Livestock Intelligence business, adding Quantified's sensor-equipped ear tags to its portfolio.

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