Merck Serono has announced the creation of Prexton Therapeutics, the first spin-off to come out of its soon-to-be shuttered R&D facility in Switzerland.

As part of Merck KGaA's controversial move to close its pharma/biotech unit's headquarters in Geneva, plans were unveiled earlier this year for a 30 million euro start-up fund for affected employees. First out of the blocks from the Entrepreneur Partnership Programme, launched in April, is Prexton which will be formed around Merck Serono's R&D portfolio in the field of Parkinson's disease.

Specifically, the new group will focus on programmes that target the metabotropic glutamate receptors mGluR3 and mGluR4. Prexton will develop the mGluR programmes from lead optimisation up to Phase I then seek partnership and licensing opportunities.

The company will be hosted in the offices and laboratory of Eclosion, a biotech start-up incubator supported by the Geneva authorities and Merck Serono will invest 2.1 million euros as seed funding. The latter's chairman, Francois Naef, said "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".

However, the company's exit from Geneva is still causing ructions. Last week, Merck Serono rejected a proposal made by the Geneva Chamber for Collective Labour Relations that recommended a supplementary increase in the redundancy payments to be made to all employees.

Mr Naef reiterated the firm's offer which includes a minimum of 25,000 Swiss francs in severance pay (and more for over-50s) and access to a 500,000-franc fund for "cases of extreme hardship". The firm also proposes to make a 1 million franc contribution to a fund managed by Geneva cantonal authorities "to alleviate the impact of the closure of the Geneva site on the local employment market".

Last month, Quintiles said it will offer jobs to around one fifth of the 500 Merck Serono employees affected by the site closure.