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Billionaires bankroll R&D institute for Merck KGaA's doomed Geneva facility

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There may be a big second act ahead for Merck Serono's gleaming R&D facility in Geneva. A pair of Swiss billionaires allied with the University of Geneva and the federal institute of technology has put in an offer to buy the sprawling complex, offering to create a major new research institution as the big pharma company evacuates the region.

Hansjörg Wyss, who made a fortune in medical devices with Synthes, along with Serono heir Ernesto Bertarelli created Campus Biotech SA, a new company that intends to transform the facility into a public/private research center focused on healthcare and biotech. Wyss has offered to bankroll 10 new labs with up to 150 researchers devoted to immuno-engineering, neuro-engineering and regenerative engineering, creating a new institute similar to the one he funded at Harvard.

"The research platforms will aim to clarify fundamental scientific problems such as transplant organ tolerance and the acceptance of new therapies," the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne said in a statement. "Also planned is the development of neuroprosthetics, including cochlear implants, retinal and motor prosthetics, and regeneration of cardiovascular, muscular and neuromuscular tissue."

Merck KGaA's plans to pull out of the Lake Geneva area stirred a storm of controversy, which was partially tamped down by the company's decision to help encourage several new spinouts and line up new jobs for stranded investigators. The announcement of the bid--with no details on the offer--is likely to put intense pressure on the German pharma giant to back the new research institute in order to preserve the local biotech community.

"This bid is an exciting and important opportunity to energize the future of the biotech and life sciences sector in the Lake Geneva region," the Bertarelli family said in a statement. "It is our hope that this bid will secure these skills for many years to come and realize a vision for the Lake Geneva region as a continuing home for biotechnology."

- here's the press release

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