Compugen, Merck Serono to jointly establish biomarker company Neviah Genomics

The new company is the first to be funded within the framework of Merck Serono’s Israel Bioincubator program and will focus on the discovery and development of novel biomarkers for drug toxicity

Jeffrey Bouley
GENEVA & TEL AVIV, Israel—Merck Serono, adivision of Darmstadt, Germany-based Merck KGaA, and Compugen Ltd. recentlyannounced the establishment of Neviah Genomics Ltd., a start-up company focusedon the discovery and development of novel biomarkers for the prediction ofdrug-induced toxicity. It will operate out of the Merck Serono IsraelBioincubator—specifically the Merck Serono R&D center known as Inter-Labthat was inaugurated in Israel in May.
 
 
This joint venture is the first investment withinthe framework of the recently formed Merck Serono Israel Bioincubator program,and Merck Serono Ventures will provide the initial funding for Neviah Genomics,while Compugen will bring to bear certain of its proprietary predictivediscovery technologies and receive an equity ownership in the new company inaddition to a right to royalties from potential future sales. Further financialdetails of the agreement were not disclosed.
 
This agreement follows what Merck Serono andCompugen botrh call "a successful collaboration" for the discovery of "biomarkersignatures" for drug induced toxicity in 2009. The companies believe that the establishmentof Neviah Genomics with their combined capabilities could satisfy the growingmarket need for products to predict toxicity profiles of lead drug candidatesat an early stage of development, thereby minimizing attrition and mitigatingrisk of late-stage drug failure.
 
"Following our prior successful collaboration withMerck Serono, we are very pleased to expand this relationship and enter into thisnew and exciting partnership," noted Dr. Anat Cohen-Dayag, president and CEO ofCompugen. "We are honored to be the first Israeli company to benefit from theestablishment of Merck Serono's Israel Bioincubator and look forward to takingour partnership to the next level. Furthermore, the formation of NeviahGenomics on a 'discovery on demand' basis enables Compugen to both continue itsfocus on therapeutic monoclonal antibodies and therapeutic proteins in the fieldsof immunology and oncology and provide potential future benefits for ourshareholders from our equity interest in Neviah and royalties from futureproduct sales."
 
 
"Neviah Genomics is a perfect illustration of ourgoals behind the establishment of the Israel Biotech Incubator: to leverageIsraeli science and know-how and get access to novel products and technologiesfor the benefit of Merck Serono's core therapeutic areas," said Susan Herbert, executivevice president of global business development and strategy at Merck Serono. "Inthis regard, we are delighted to be collaborating on our first investment withCompugen, one of the premier biotech companies in Israel and a world leadingpredictive drug discovery company. We believe that our joint technology andresources represent a unique basis for a start-up to enter this emerging fieldthat has the potential to significantly reduce the risk of drug discovery anddevelopment."
 
 
Neviah Genomics reportedly will benefit fromCompugen's sophisticated proprietary computational discovery platforms todevelop advanced toxicogenomics diagnostic tests. Developed tests will be usedfor the prediction of drug-induced toxicity and integrated into a biomarkerplatform to support the prioritization and development of drug productcandidates.
 
 
Merck Serono Ventures is the strategic, corporateventure capital fund of Merck Serono and invests in biotech start-up companiesthat have the potential to provide novel products in Merck Serono's coretherapeutic areas, which are neurodegenerative diseases, oncology, autoimmune andinflammatory diseases, endocrinology and fertility. In addition, Merck SeronoVentures invests in companies developing innovative platform technologies thatcould enable the discovery and development of new products in those coretherapeutic areas.
 
 
In 2011, Merck Serono initiated the Merck SeronoIsrael Bioincubator Fund, which aims to "stimulate innovation by bridging thegap between academic research and the biotechnology industry in Israel." TheBioincubator offers both seed financing and access to dedicated,state-of-the-art laboratory facilities within Inter-Lab, Merck Serono'sIsrael-based research and development center. Merck Serono is committing atotal of EUR 10 million to the Bioincubator initiative.


Jeffrey Bouley

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