Merck Serono Launches New Spin-off Company; Provides Update on Restructuring

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Merck Serono's Asceneuron is the third company to be spun off from the company's Entrepreneur Partnership Program that was launched to mitigate the impact from recent restructuring at its Geneva site.

Merck Serono, a division of Merck KGaA, has launched a new spin-off company, Asceneuron, which will focus on developing therapies for treating Alzheimer’s disease and Tau protein-related pathologies. Asceneuron is the third company to be launched from Merck Serono’s Entrepreneur Partnership Program (EPP), which the company launched in April 2012 as a way to mitigate the impact of the closure of its Geneva headquarters and related restructuring, which was announced earlier this year. The company also provided an update on that restructuring.  

Merck Serono will invest EUR 5 million ($6.5 million) as seed funding in Asceneuron. Merck Serono Ventures will manage the investment and will be represented on the company’s board of directors. The founders of Asceneuron are: Dirk Beher, chief scientific officer; Christoph Wiessner, head of discovery; and Frank Armstrong, executive chairman of the board. The newly founded company will initially employ eight current Merck Serono employees to develop Merck Serono’s Alzheimer’s disease programs from lead optimization up to clinical Phase I and will seek partnership and licensing opportunities for further development. Asceneuron will initially approach Alzheimer’s disease with three complementary drug-discovery programs through the modulation of molecular pathways known to be involved in memory loss and neuropathology.

Asceneuron is the third company to be spun off from the Merck Serono EPP program. It launched Prexton Therapeutics, which specializes in developing drugs to treat Parkinson’s disease and drugs that target the metabotropic glutamate receptors mGluR3 and mGluR4, in June, and Quartz Bio, a company that offers biomarker data management and exploratory biomarker analysis services, in September. EPP is part of a EUR 30-million ($39 million) commitment to support the creation of spinoff and start-up companies focused on continuing activities and compounds that originated at Merck Serono. This program is aimed at reducing the impact on employment following the announced closure of the Geneva headquarters due to recent restructuring.

Merck Serono announced earlier this year plans to consolidate all headquarter functions in one Merck Serono campus in Darmstadt, Germany and to transfer key R&D positions from Geneva to Darmstadt, Boston, and Beijing. As a consequence, out of the 1250 positions in Geneva, more than  750 positions are being transferred and 500 positions are being eliminated.

Late last month, Merck Serono provided an update on its redeployment of its Geneva-based staff, 100 days after announcing its decision to close its site there. The company reported that job prospects have been clarified for more than 500 employees, or 40% of Geneva-based employees. Two-hundred and sixty employees have accepted the offer of a transfer to another Merck Serono site: 170 within Switzerland and 90 abroad. In addition, 35 employees have yet to decide on the transfer offer, and 170 employees have found jobs elsewhere, including 16 employees through Merck Serono’s program to support the creation of start-ups. Eighty employees are taking early retirement.


See related stories:

Merck Serono Announces Final Restructuring Plan (ePT,  June  21, 2012)

Merck KGaA Announces Job Cuts (ePT, Apr. 25, 2012)

Merck KGaA Announces Restructuring (ePT,  Mar. 1,  2012)