Swiss billionaires create major biotech campus at former Serono site

Two Swiss billionaires--Ernesto Bertarelli and Hansjörg Wyss--have joined forces to buy out the former Merck Serono facility in Geneva, with ambitious plans to create a major collaboration on discovery work and translational research while offering a home for a new generation of biotech companies in the region.

The billionaires have been the leading force behind the Campus Biotech initiative. Wyss's foundation is providing a $103 million donation to create a new institute for bio- and neuro-engineering with The École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and the University of Geneva, with other research groups from both organizations expected to join them.

Wyss made a fortune from the $21 billion sale of Synthes to J&J in 2011, which he has been investing in healthcare technology. And Bertarelli's family cashed in on the sale of Serono to Germany's Merck KGaA in 2006. Once Merck announced its decision to close the 45,000-square-foot Serono facility, Bertarelli went to work to find a new way to use the facility to help bolster the country's significant biotech industry. There was no word today on just what the sponsors are paying for the site.

"The Wyss Institute shall be a multidisciplinary Institute whose mission will be to develop biologically inspired solutions that will solve critical medical problems and to translate these transformative technologies into products that have an impact on society and the world," said Wyss, who created the Wyss Institute at Harvard.

To its credit, Merck KGaA has committed some cash to help fund a new round of start-ups led by former workers in Geneva. The biopharma industry has been shuttering R&D centers around the world in the last few years, from AstraZeneca's plans for Alderley to Pfizer ($PFE) in Sandwich, U.K. and Groton and Roche ($RHHBY) in Nutley, NJ. This is the first time one of these centers will be able to write a second chapter in drug R&D.

- here's the press release

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