Driving Innovation and Excellence: Merck IT Centre’s Role in Life Sciences and Healthcare in India

CXOToday has engaged in an exclusive interview with Dr Harsha Gurulingappa, Head of Text Analytics at Merck Group

1.Please share the role of Merck IT Centre (MITC) in Merck Life Science and Healthcare business in India.

Merck IT Centre provides technological support to Merck Group’s three major business units – Life Science, Healthcare, and Electronics. MITC delivers a range of tools, services, and digital platforms designed to streamline research processes across various domains, spanning from drug discovery to automotive painting, ensuring simplicity, precision, and efficiency. Digital solutions of Merck IT Centre empower scientists and engineers at every stage, helping them deliver breakthrough therapies more quickly. Merck IT Centre focuses on digital workplace transformation – introducing user-driven PC onboarding, modernization of meeting rooms, and citizen development platforms, all built with a clear focus on end-user experience. In the technology landscape, the MITC strives to enhance the digital value chain.


2.What is the significance of AI in drug discovery, and how does Merck incorporate AI into its operational processes? 

Artificial intelligence is at the center of almost every digital effort now being implemented in our Life Science division, whether it is enabling lab researchers to discover the next scientific discovery or assisting clients in the production and testing of innovative treatments and diagnostics. The application of AI and Machine Learning (ML) systems can accelerate drug discovery, reducing the cost of drug discovery.

At Merck, we have developed software that combines AI, machine learning, and computer-aided drug design methods, which is a valuable toolkit for our customers increasing the success rate of lead candidates in drug discovery and development. We have AI-powered drug discovery software and retrosynthesis software.

We possess a widely acclaimed software known as Addison, meticulously crafted to facilitate the screening of billions of molecules. AIDDISON’s predictive AI models empower scientists to identify and optimize promising candidates with key drug-like properties, such as non-toxicity, solubility, and stability in the body. Additionally, to complete the drug discovery workflow in a single, user-friendly interface, the AIDDISON™ platform leverages best-in-class technologies from strategic partnerships, such as BioSolveIT for virtual screening or Cresset for 3D molecular docking.


3.What are the obstacles that Merck encounters when recruiting and retaining technology professionals in India, especially in specialized fields such as AI and machine learning?

Companies across the world from startups to tech giants, are competing to develop AI-driven products and services. To accomplish their tech goals, companies from different sectors are competing for the same pool of AI and Machine Learning talent, making it tough for them to get their desired talent. Merck along with other pharmaceutical companies is also intensifying the focus on automation opportunities, recognizing their potential to accelerate drug discovery processes and streamline supply chain operations. This trend has ignited the demand for more technology professionals in India. However, there are still many challenges that life science companies face while hiring and retaining talent. 

Though India has many educational institutions, not all of them offer advanced, up-to-date courses in AI and ML, leading to a shortage of well-trained graduates. This has intensified the demand for technology professionals, making it difficult to recruit and retain skilled workers in AI and ML. Additionally, the geographical location of companies plays a significant role, as some professionals prefer major tech hubs like Bengaluru and Hyderabad, while others favour remote work. Moreover, AI and ML experts often have high salary expectations, which can be challenging to meet, especially for junior positions.


4.Despite a slowdown in the IT sector, how are Global Capability Centers (GCCs) experiencing growth in India, particularly in terms of generating job opportunities?

Over the last few years, India has emerged as a prime destination for Global Capability Centers (GCC), boasting a robust talent pool exceeding 1.66 million professionals across various sectors like Engineering Research & Development, Healthcare, analytics, and Finance among others. A new report by IT industry apex bodies NASSCOM and Zinnov found that in the fourth quarter of the calendar year 2023, India saw 10 new GCCs established, marking the entry of key MNCs into the Indian market.

India stands out as an ideal location for companies to establish a GCC locale due to its vast talent pool, providing GCCs with convenient access to a cost-effective workforce, coupled with a thriving tech ecosystem conducive to innovative problem-solving and adaptability. Additionally, due to the strategic geographic location of India, there is the potential to easily manage satellite operations of nearby countries and the globe. Global economic challenges and the surge in the concept of remote work during the COVID-19 era are also among the factors that have accelerated the growth of GCCs in India.


5.How do you implement new technologies and foster a culture of innovation within a large organization like Merck?

At Merck, we ensure that our leadership is committed to innovation and the adoption of new technologies. We work towards developing a clear and compelling vision for how AI and related technologies will be integrated into the organization by investing in state-of-the-art computing infrastructure, such as cloud computing, to support AI workloads.

We have cultivated an environment where employees feel safe to experiment and take calculated risks without fear of failure. Merck fosters a culture of innovation, by using success stories, case studies, and future potential scenarios helping us to inspire and motivate employees about the benefits of AI. We have been offering regular training sessions, workshops, and certifications in AI and related technologies to our employees which has helped them in aligning themselves with new cutting-edge technologies. Additionally, we use agile methodologies like Scrum and SAFe to ensure flexibility and responsiveness in our AI projects.