Merck Serono has selected the first new company to receive funding earmarked to help employees affected by the closure of its Swiss headquarters in Geneva.
Prexton Therapeutics will be given €2.1m of the $30m fund that was set up in April, 2012, to encourage the launch of biopharma start-ups after more than 500 Merck Serono employees lost their jobs in Switzerland as the company relocated key operations to its German headquarters.
The Prexton team consists of former Merck Serono scientists with experience in neurology and they will be given access to a portfolio of chemical compounds developed as part of Merck Serono's pre-clinical research.
Its CEO and founder is François Conquet, who was formerly director of licensing and business development at Merck Serono.
He has previous entrepreneurial experience having co-founded Addex Pharmaceuticals in 2001, following almost ten years at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
Conquet will lead Prexton's research efforts into Parkinson's disease, with a focus on programmes that target the metabotropic glutamate receptors mGluR3 and mGluR4.
It is thought that the ability to affect these receptors could reverse the effects of altered neurotransmission in people with Parkinson's disease, both alleviating symptoms and slowing disease progression.
“I have long been interested in the potential of mGluR-targeted therapies and now there is a great opportunity to further develop Merck Serono's programmes in Parkinson's disease and offer new hopes to patients,” said Conquet.
According to Merck Serono, Prexton will develop the mGluR programmes up to clinical phase I before seeking partnership and licensing opportunities for further development.
The company will be based in the offices and laboratory of Eclosion, a biotech hub in Geneva.
“We are really proud and satisfied that this first project is now coming to life. Through such initiatives, not only will we be able to maintain jobs in the Geneva area but also unique expertise,” said François Naef, chair of the board of directors of Merck Serono.