Merck Serono has created another spin-off company as part of its entrepreneurship programme, designed to provide start-up opportunities to employees affected by the closure of its Geneva headquarters.
The latest new venture is called Quartz Bio and will operate as a contract research organisation, providing biomarker analysis services to biopharma clients including Merck Serono itself, which has pledged to provide work orders totalling around €2m over the next two to three years.
"Biomarker analysis is a critical step in the drug development process as it enables the identification of patient profiles that are most responsive to a given treatment," said Merck Serono in a statement, with chairman François Naef noting that "highly specialised service companies are essential actors of the drug-development process".
Quartz Bio is the second company to be allocated funding from the start-up fund after Prexton Therapeutics, a Parkinson's disease specialist, was given €2.1m to get off the ground in July.
The €30m entrepreneurship fund is one of a series of measures Merck Serono has set up to help employees who lost their jobs in Switzerland as the company relocated key operations to its German headquarters.
Quartz Bio will be headed by informatics specialist Jérôme Wojcik, along with four other staff, and be located in Plan-les-Ouates in Geneva.
Biomarker-related services are a growth area in the contract research sector and have become increasingly competitive of late, with big CROs such as Quintiles, Covance, WuXi and Parexel all setting up dedicated biomarker business units in the last few years.
Clinical drug development, particularly in the oncology field, is currently the fastest growing sector for biomarker technology and services.
"An increasing number of pharmaceutical companies are integrating a stratified medicine approach in their drug development process in order to predict how patients will respond to a specific therapy," said Wojcik.
"Biomarker analyses are at the heart of stratified medicine," he added.