Merck KGaA’s EMD Serono subsidiary said today it will expand its U.S. workforce about 20% by 2014 by expanding its R&D hub about 25 miles northwest of Boston, in Billerica, MA.

EMD Serono said the expansion of the company’s drug development organization in the U.S. reflected a strong signal of its commitments to discover and bring to market new treatments in key therapeutic areas, be closer to customers, and ensure for itself a stronger scientific and commercial profile in the market.

The company is striving to build expertise in oncology, immuno-oncology, and immunology, in addition to further strengthening its solid market position in multiple sclerosis. In addition to supporting the advancement of its pipeline, EMD Serono is also looking to build partnerships with academia and the biotech sector, while enhancing access to talent across the R&D continuum.

“The Greater Boston area remains one of the top locations for state-of-the-art drug development,” James Hoyes, EMD Serono’s president, said in a statement. “Here we can attract and retain best-in-class talent in the biopharma and life sciences industry. We are confident that by increasing hiring in the U.S., we can continue to foster innovation and a culture anchored in new possibilities.”

The German-based pharma giant has renamed its Billerica campus as the EMD Serono Research & Development Institute to reflect the full scope of work to occur there, from early-stage drug discovery research to clinical development and medical use.

EMD Serono said it has invested more than $75 million in the Billerica site, which opened as a clinical-stage protein manufacturing facility and expanded in February 2011 with additional lab space to support research focused on infertility, oncology, and neurodegenerative diseases. By situating research in Billerica, EMD Serono hoped to stoke increased collaboration between R&D and manufacturing, and thus support a faster transition for new drugs from research to manufacturing.

EMD Serono’s announcement did not detail how many employees now work at Billerica. The workforce size was about 100 before the expansion, and now includes about 200 scientists, according to the company’s website. Some of that number being employees transferred from the company’s U.S. headquarters, which remains about 45 miles southeast of Billerica in Rockland, MA.

EMD Serono had 854 employees across Massachusetts as of last year, according to the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council’s Biopharma Industry Snapshot 2012.

Billerica houses one of four regional R&D hubs for Merck KGaA; the other three are in Beijing, Tokyo, and Darmstadt, Germany.

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