The ingredients for success

Merz Pharma is one of the major pharmaceutical companies in Saxony-Anhalt. In this interview with the company’s site manager Björn Niemczak, he discusses the investments made by Merz in Dessau and the benefits of the BioPharmaPark and also has some tips for visitors to his home region.


Merz has had a presence in Dessau for more than 20 years. When you look back over that time, how has the location changed? 

Björn Niemczak: The involvement of Merz in the BioPharmaPark Dessau began with the arrival of two employees in 2002. Their role was to run a small plant to produce active ingredients. All the other stages in the manufacturing process were managed by contractual partners. Now, about 20 years later, we have a modern pharmaceutical production site that the company has invested around 130 million euros in and that employs almost 300 people. In addition to the production of active ingredients, all the other stages in the pharmaceutical manufacturing process take place in a highly automated facility in Dessau.

Our challenge in Dessau is to produce botulinum toxin, one of the most lethal poisons, on an industrial scale. We manufacture this naturally occurring toxin using a controlled industrial process to a consistently high standard of quality, while ensuring the safety of our employees. As a result we can produce a product that significantly improves the lives of many patients. This is what makes the product and the task so special.

Because of the considerable growth in the use of the product for therapeutic and aesthetic purposes, we now supply botulinum toxin from Dessau to more than 70 countries and have succeeded in overcoming the significant hurdles involved in entering the US and Asian markets. Another product group, dermal fillers, has been added to the portfolio of the Dessau production site.

I am impressed by the pragmatic, goal-oriented approach to work here at the site. My aim is to consolidate and grow the production facilities here, with the help of my team, and to give something back to the region in the form of attractive jobs.


Last year Merz announced the expansion of the plant, which involved an investment of 40 million euros. What is the plan and what is its current status? 

Björn Niemczak: Merz has introduced a second production line in Dessau for sterile filling and freeze drying, which will triple the output of the site. This year another new building was opened. This is home to a modern high-bay warehouse and all the support processes needed for the additional production capacity.

The investment of around 40 million euros was completed within the agreed timeframe and was managed and supported by internal team members while normal production continued at full capacity.

Each individual part of the manufacturing process for botulinum toxin has its own special features and challenges. This starts with the production of the active ingredient. The machines used in the various stages of the biotechnological manufacturing process have been developed exclusively for us. The process consists of around 200 steps and lasts for four weeks. The result is pure, complex-free botulinum toxin. The diluted solution of the active ingredient is then put into vials and freeze dried, which takes 28 hours. These stages of the process have to be carried out in sterile conditions. The production requirements make this one of the most challenging areas of pharmaceutical manufacturing. The release test, which consists of a cell-based biological assay, is also complex and involves around 100 individual pipetting steps over the nine-day test period.

In addition, we are working on the next expansion phase. Over the next three years, another 40 million euros will be invested in automation and expansion projects at the site. Our main priorities in this respect are digitalization and sustainability. The future is all about human-machine interaction, which will allow production processes to be made more efficient and less dependent on human intervention. Our goal is to transform Merz Dessau into a net-zero factory. We have drawn up a roadmap for achieving this, which involves reducing our CO2 emissions by 80 percent by 2030.


The BioPharmaPark Dessau is one of the twelve Centers of Excellence in Saxony-Anhalt. What do you believe is the potential of the BioPharmaPark? 

Björn Niemczak: The decision to set up a plant at the BioPharmaPark Dessau-Roßlau was a good one, because of the skilled employees in the area and the attractive expansion options. The pharmaceutical companies here benefit from an efficient infrastructure, a good service network and proximity to the cities of Leipzig and Halle, Magdeburg and Berlin, which are centers of scientific research and home to engineers, chemists, biologists, pharmacists and lab technicians.

Personally, I am extremely impressed by the growth of the BioPharmaPark. I am particularly pleased about the prospects for the region, the local cultural scene and the people in the area that result from having major employers here.

I was born in Wittenberg and went to university in Magdeburg. After that I spent eight years in the Rheinhessen region and kept a close eye on developments at the BioPharmaPark. When I came back to Saxony-Anhalt in 2014 and began working for Merz in Dessau, I was impressed by the facilities at the park and by its potential. The impact and the appeal of the BioPharmaPark will benefit the entire region. The park offers a promising future for motivated young people.


The shortage of skilled employees is a major problem for almost all industries. What is the situation at Merz in Dessau? 

We were fortunate to be able to take a proactive approach to this issue, which allowed us to introduce initiatives at an early stage and put the right conditions in place. The result was that we filled 95 percent of our 50 new vacancies in the first three months of our current fiscal year. At Merz in Dessau, we are taking a variety of approaches to ensure that we are a strong, well-known employer brand in the region. In the context of smart work, we have set up interdisciplinary teams to design future-proof jobs that will safeguard our prospects in the region. Most importantly, we can offer a variety of different options and development horizons that will allow our employees to choose a technical or management career path. It is important for us to provide modern jobs that are suitable for all generations and to preserve our corporate culture, which is based on respect.


If you were able to recommend three destinations to a visitor to Saxony-Anhalt, what would they be and why? 

Wittenberg – not only because I was born there and it was where the Reformation began, but also because I am impressed by the dynamic growth of the town and its surroundings.

Magdeburg – because I lived there for five years and saw how it rapidly developed into a modern, family-friendly city that has something for all ages and has excellent future prospects because of the industrial firms that have moved into the area.

Dessau-Roßlau – if you look at the average age of the residents, you would not think that the city was a dynamic place. However, it has seen significant growth in recent years. As a result of the companies of all sizes that have become established there and the local initiatives, the people of Dessau-Roßlau have genuinely achieved something. In addition to the historic Bauhaus Masters' Houses, the countryside around the town is also well worth exploring.


Author: Friedemann Kahl


Echtzeit Sachsen-Anhalt