A £1.3million expansion of Irvine life sciences company Merck has its official ground breaking ceremony last week.

MP Dr Philippa Whitford and MSP Ruth Maguire MSP did the honours - and both hailed the firm for investing in the town.

Irvine will now be supplying materials for cutting edge medicines for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, in addition to its existing materials production for rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, flu, diabetes and dementia medicines.

Merck say the facility is of vital importance to their global network as it is the only facility to produce both liquid and powder cell culture media.

Cell culture media are the “food” that promote the growth of cells which are critical in the production of biological drugs and vaccines.

The Irvine site currently supports 170 jobs – a number that is growing at some per cent per annum.

The new expansion will allow Merck to supply an additional two million litres of specialised media to the global healthcare industry, building on the £20m investment in 2015 for a dry powder facility.

Dr Whitford MP said: “I’m delighted to break ground on Merck’s new capability, which will be instrumental in the site’s continued growth in the production of cell culture media.

“Merck’s presence is vitally important to Irvine and the wider Ayrshire economy and the site is a prime example of a burgeoning local industry with global importance.

“I’m incredibly proud the constituency is at the forefront of the cell culture media production and other materials that support the development and manufacturing of critically important drugs and vaccines for some of the most prevalent and significant diseases of our time.”

Ruth Maguire MSP, said: “It’s extremely exciting to see the Irvine site continue to grow and flourish. The Scottish Government is very committed to the Scottish life sciences sector as a major growth industry for the economy and Merck Irvine is a leading example of this.

“I was interested to learn of Merck’s community education programmes which link up with local primary and secondary schools across Ayrshire. It’s so important that local children learn about the industries on their doorstep and are inspired to pursue a career in science.”

David Bucklin, Irvine Site Director, said “Since the initial investment in the dry powder production facility in 2015, the site has gone from strength to strength.

“Our success is highly dependent on being able to recruit locally. We’re pleased to have a strong partnership with the University of the West of Scotland who for the past four years we have run 12 week placements with students from their Applied Bioscience with Forensic Investigation degree.

“We have also recently started investigating engineering apprenticeships.”