Billionaires push for Geneva research centre

The Merck Serono headquarters in Geneva could become a biotechnology research centre Keystone

Hansjörg Wyss and Ernesto Bertarelli have joined a consortium with two Swiss universities looking at turning the former headquarters of Merck Serono into a research and technology centre.

This content was published on December 5, 2012 minutes and agencies

At a press conference in Bern on Wednesday, the consortium, which includes the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and Geneva University, said the centre would focus on research in the areas of health, biotechnology and life sciences. It handed in an offer for the Geneva complex last week.

The project would cost several hundred million francs, according to Jörg Neef, representative of Wyss and Bertarelli.

In April of this year, German drug and chemical maker Merck said it would shut the Swiss headquarters of its Merck Serono pharmaceutical division, cutting more than 500 jobs and transferring more than 750. Merck bought Serono from the Bertarelli family in 2006 for SFr16 billion ($17.3 billion).

Wyss, president and majority shareholder of Synthes, a multinational medical device manufacturer based in canton Solothurn and Pennsylvania, was ranked 121st on the 2010 Forbes list of richest people in the world with a fortune estimated at $6 billion (SFr5.55 billion).

Bertarelli’s family ranked 81st on the 2011 Forbes list, with estimated wealth of $10.6 billion.

Important pillar

Jean-Dominique Vassalli, rector of Geneva University, spoke on Wednesday of an “extraordinary chance”.

“The project would not only allow jobs to be kept in Geneva, but it would also promote research activity,” he said.

Fritz Schiesser, responsible for Switzerland’s six federal research and technology institutions, said he was thrilled by the consortium’s plans, speaking of a great success not only for the region but for the whole country.

Swiss biotech today ranks among the top ten biotech industries worldwide and is an important pillar of the Swiss economy with multinationals and dynamic mid-sized companies which generated revenues of SFr8.7 billion in 2011.
Overall, Switzerland is home to almost 250 firms, three-quarters of which are core biotech. As a whole, the sector employs more than 19,000 people.

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