THE head of one of Scotland’s largest life science firms has warned that Brexit will have a “really detrimental impact” if it restricts the company’s ability to recruit talent from abroad.

Speaking during his first ever visit to Merck’s Scottish sites, Udit Batra, CEO of Merck Life Sciences said the rapid expansion of the life sciences sector could not be sustained unless they were able to attract skilled people from Europe and around the world.

Mr Batra said: “We need talented people. This is a technical business, we do technical testing and we support a highly regulated industry in pharmaceuticals, so we sometimes come to the limit of bringing in highly qualified people the more sophisticated we get.

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“It took us a long time to recruit the Head of Quality because we did not want to lower the standard, but at the same time there’s not that many people with that skill set easily available.

“So that definitely is a challenge, but to put it in perspective, Scotland in general and this part of Scotland has one of the highest rates of tertiary education in the world.

“So we should be able to find good people in this area, yet I think there is never enough of them.

“We still have a lot of skill and talent that moves from one country to another for troubleshooting, for customer service, and restrictions on that could really detrimentally impact our business.

“We want to be prepared but we’re not over-reacting. Merck is a 350-year-old company – we have seen upheavals not unlike this in the past and it’s managed to survive. We will get through this [Brexit] as well.”

Mr Batra was speaking following a visit to Merck’s biopharmaceutical manufacturing plant in Irvine, Ayrshire. The site makes critical raw materials used to manufacture some of the most advanced cancer therapies anywhere in the world, while the company’s sister site in Glasgow has led the way in gene therapy and the development of many of the world’s most impactful “biologics” – genetically engineered proteins derived from human genes which are crucial in the burgeoning area of immunotherapy drugs. It serves customers in Japan, South Korea, India and the US, with around 80 to 90 per cent of our the products made in Scotland exported abroad.

Together with sites in Stirling and Livingston, Merck employs more than 600 people here and is one of the company’s most important manufacturing hubs after the US, Germany and France.

Mr Batra said he expected to see “dramatic changes” in life sciences over the next 10 to 15 years, particularly around oncology and immunology – key to cancer drugs – and gene editing, a technique which allows scientists to correct faulty gene mutations which cause inherited diseases by replacing them with healthy DNA.

He said: “We have tremendous unmet need. Regardless of which of the areas see the first breakthroughs or multiple breakthroughs, we believe that the life science business is going to play a role – be it in research, research tools, with chemicals, gene editing, with protein interactions, with cell analysis, be it in manufacturing because many of these drugs are manufactured with new processes.

“There will be dramatic changes in the next 10 to 15 years in

the innovation we see in life science, and we will definitely play a role in it.”