“Innovation, which starts with my colleagues’ curiosity, is key for our firm”

Three and a half centuries of curiosity

Merck Japan makes advances in electronics, healthcare, and life science


DECEMBER 2021 Investing in Japan / Text by Toby Waters / Photos by Michael Holmes

In 1668, Friedrich Jacob Merck founded a small pharmacy in Darmstadt, Germany. Still headquartered in Darmstadt, the Merck Group is the oldest pharmaceutical firm in the world, as well as one of the largest. In addition to healthcare, Merck has major business units in electronics and life science. It employs some 58,000 people and has research facilities across the world.

“We are a leading science and technology company,” says Dr Roman Maisch, representative director and president of Merck Electronics Ltd., and country speaker for all of Merck’s activities in Japan. “We make a positive difference to millions of people’s lives every day.”

Its Japanese subsidiary began in 1968, exactly 300 years after the firm’s founding, and it has become a crucial part of the company globally.


Merck began its Japanese operations by selling chemicals, as well as pigments for a variety of applications. Today, it is active in all three main business areas and has become one of the firm’s global R&D hubs. The Electronics Business Unit comprises three fields: Surface Solutions, Display Solutions and Semiconductor Solutions.

The firm’s production site in Onahama, Fukushima Prefecture, which opened in 1984, develops and manufactures pigments for cosmetics, coatings, plastics, and printing inks. They are used both domestically and globally.

“It is one of our most innovative sites,” says Maisch, who is also president and managing executive of Merck Performance Materials G.K. “For example, Xirallic and Meoxal, which are cutting-edge pigments for automotive coatings, come from that site.”

A pioneer in the area of displays — the second area in its Electronics Business Unit — Merck began developing liquid crystals here in 1981. In 2015, Merck won the German Innovation Award in the Large Enterprises category for its ultra-bright fringe field switching technology. This invention makes liquid crystal touchscreens more energy efficient, allowing smartphones and tablets to display brighter colours while maintaining a long battery life.

“We were the first here in Japan for innovative liquid crystal materials for displays,” states Maisch. “Innovation, which starts with my colleagues’ curiosity, is key for our firm — and something we always must remember.”

The market for high-quality display materials continues to grow. Merck is also pushing the sector forward as it produces cutting-edge materials, such as organic light-emitting diodes (OLED), which are helping to make foldable and rollable displays a reality.

“The last two years have proved that going digital also requires being able to develop more and better devices to communicate with,” says Maisch. “Displays are the interface between different people in different places, so this growth will continue for mobile phones, laptop screens, and televisions, but our display materials also have applications for automotive and medical devices.”

“unlike many of our competitors … Merck continues to invest here in Japan”


R&D and the manufacturing of semiconductor materials, the third business in Merck’s Electronics Business Unit, is handled by a number of plants globally, including one in Shizuoka Prefecture in Japan. The Shizuoka plant came into the group’s portfolio after the firm acquired AZ Electric Materials in 2014. In April of this year, Merck announced a further investment of €20 million in the facility to expand its R&D and production capabilities.

“This is a very important site, specifically for creating materials for thin films used in semiconductor manufacturing. Our focus here is on bringing out new materials for the semiconductor industry,” Maisch says. “With the acquisition of Versum Materials two years ago, we can now serve every process at each different step in the manufacturing of microchips — from development to packaging. A new office and administration building at the site opened in January.”

Masaru Nagata, the current director and head of Merck’s Semiconductor Materials Business Unit in Japan, notes that this investment demonstrates Merck’s commitment to Japan.

“Many people in the industry are saying that the semiconductor market will continue to grow for at least five or ten years,” he says. “But, unlike many of our competitors who have focused on making investments into China, South Korea, or Taiwan, Merck continues to invest here in Japan. That’s a big difference.”

At the end of this year, Maisch will retire as president of Merck Electronics, Merck Performance Materials, and Versum Materials Japan. He will be succeeded in these roles by Nagata.


Apart from its work in electronics, Merck is helping to improve people’s health in Japan. Its research here is primarily focused on oncology, immuno-oncology, and fertility treatments. Next year will mark the 15th anniversary of the opening of the Healthcare Business Unit in Japan.

“Everything we do is fuelled by a belief that science and technology are to be used as a force for good. We will achieve this by growing our existing businesses and identifying new ways to expand our products and services,” says Alexandre de Muralt, representative director and president of the Merck Biopharma Business Unit in Japan. “Scientific exploration and responsible entrepreneurship are key to technological advances that benefit us all. This is how Merck has thrived since 1668.”

De Muralt will succeed Maisch as country speaker.

Merck’s Life Science Business Unit provides services, solutions, and technologies for research, biotech, pharmaceutical companies, and academic institutions around the world. It has been contributing to the fight against Covid-19, including through a strategic partnership with BioNTech.

“Globally, we have helped scientists to detect viruses and develop vaccines and therapies, providing for more than 80 different vaccine candidates, 50 therapeutic options, and more than 35 Covid-19 testing solutions,” says Kiyoshi Nango, representative director and president of Merck Ltd. and Sigma-Aldrich Japan K.K., part of Merck’s global life science network. “In Japan, Merck is supporting local customers’ vaccine development and production, as a critical partner.”

In June, the Life Science Business Unit celebrated the 5th anniversary of the establishment of its M Lab Collaboration Center in Tokyo. This research facility offers opportunities for collaboration, technical guidance, and education for customers.

“Since it opened, it has hosted more than 400 customer activities, which have helped drug developers solve some of their toughest problems,” states Nango.

Merck in Japan continues to expand and evolve to stay ahead of the needs of the market. Nagata — Maisch’s successor as representative director and president of Merck’s Electronics Business Unit in Japan — notes: “It’s not just Japan, but the entire world recognises that Merck focuses on being advanced in the digital space, so I’m very excited to take over this role.

“I love our company philosophy: to make people’s lives happier and better.”