Quartz Bio, a new company offering biomarker data management and exploratory biomarker analysis services to the pharmaceutical industry, has emerged as the second offshoot of Merck Serono’s Entrepreneur Partnership Program, set up to take the sting out of the company’s withdrawal from its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

Quartz Bio will be led by its founder and chief executive officer Jérôme Wojcik, former director of bioinformatics at Merck Serono. He will take on four scientists with in-depth understanding of biology and bioinformatics as well as extensive experience in drug-development processes.

The new company will be based at the Blue Box offices of FONGIT, a start-up accelerator in Plan-les-Ouates, Geneva, and will be supported by the Geneva authorities. Merck Serono intends to use Quartz Bio’s services, with plans for orders worth around €2 million in total over the next two or three years, it noted.

Stratified approach

As Wojcik pointed out, a growing number of pharmaceutical companies are integrating a stratified medicine approach into their drug development processes.

Biomarker analyses “are at the heart of stratified medicine and we believe that Quartz Bio’s flexible and highly specialised services will bring added value to pharmaceutical companies for the development of new drugs”, he commented.

Launched in April 2012, the Enterpreneur Partnership Program was part of a € 30 million commitment made by Merck Serono to support the creation of spin-off and start-up companies that could leverage activities, capabilities and compounds originated at the Geneva site.

Geneva closure

Merck Serono confirmed its intention to close the Geneva site, with the loss of some 500 jobs, last June.

The plan was part of a restructuring programme announced by parent company Merck KGaA earlier this year, whereby all headquarters functions would be consolidated at a single campus in Darmstadt, Germany, while key research and development positions would migrate from Geneva to Darmstadt, Boston (US) and Beijing (China).

Since then, the Entrepreneur Partnership Program has already produced one spin-off: Prexton Therapeutics, a new company formed around Merck Serono’s R&D portfolio in the field of Parkinson’s disease.

In addition, US-based biopharmaceutical services company Quintiles is offering jobs to around one fifth of the Merck Serono employees affected by the Geneva closure.

Essential actors

Welcoming the launch of Quartz Bio, François Naef, board chairman of Merck Serono, said: “Highly specialised service companies are essential actors of the drug-development process, and they are very complementary to the activities and structures of large pharmaceutical companies”.

The Quartz Bio spin-off “also illustrates the dynamism of Merck Serono employees, and I am convinced that the Geneva regional economic fabric will benefit from it”, Naef added.