Merck KGaA has signed a deal with Philochem of Switzerland, the research unit of Italy's Philogen in the fertility field.

Under the terms of the agreement, Philochem will supply specific monoclonal antibodies to the German firm's Merck Serono unit to be used in the search for molecular biomarkers of oocyte and embryo quality. Financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

Bernhard Kirschbaum, head of R&D at Merck Serono, said the firm is convinced that "the development of innovative non-invasive diagnostic tests to evaluate oocyte and embryo quality could help in vitro fertilisation specialists offer infertile couples the best chance of achieving their dream of having a baby on their own". Merck is a major player in fertility, headed by Gonal-f (follitropin alfa), to stimulate the ovaries and produce eggs in women and spermatogenesis induction in men.

News of the deal came after Merck revealed it will be taking a charge of 60-70 million euros in the fourth quarter in relation to settling a lawsuit brought by the US Department of Justice in September 2006 concerning inflated prices at its former unit Dey Pharma.

Dey, which was sold to Mylan in 2007, has agreed to pay $280 million to settle False Claims Act allegations which saw the firm accused of adopting unlawful drug pricing schemes which resulted in healthcare programmes such as Medicaid and Medicare paying millions of dollars more than they should.

Mylan noted that as Dey's former parent company, Merck is responsible for paying the full amount of this settlement as well as all costs and other expenses associated with pending and future-related Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement lawsuits involving Dey.

At least Merck is receiving $275 million from the sale of its crop bioscience unit to Novozymes of Denmark, a deal announced at the beginning of the week.

Bernd Reckmann, member of the board at the Darmstadt-headquartered firm, said that with the recent acquisition of the USA's Millipore, "the strategic focus of Merck’s chemicals business significantly changed towards the life science industries". The crop bioscience business "is focused on a specific segment within the agricultural industry and has very limited overlap with other parts of Merck’s business", he added.