Swiss Billionaires Buy Merck Geneva Building for Biotech Campus

Swiss billionaires Ernesto Bertarelli and Hansjoerg Wyss have acquired Merck KGaA’s Geneva headquarters to turn it into a biotechnology campus.

Bertarelli, who founded Geneva-based drugmaker Serono and sold it to Merck for $13.3 billion in 2007, formed a consortium with Wyss to buy the 725,000 square-foot (67,355 square-meter) building, the group said in a statement today. The group didn’t disclose the price for a building that cost $1.25 billion to construct, according to Hamburg-based Emporis GmbH.

Universities in Geneva and Lausanne will form an institute to conduct bio- and neuro-engineering research at the site, while the group said it also plans to attract startups and other businesses. Investor interest in the Swiss biotech hub that emerged out of the success of Roche Holding AG and Novartis AG, Europe’s biggest drugmakers by sales, has receded after setbacks in developing new medicines.

“This project constitutes a unique opportunity to increase research and development in the biotechnology sector of the Lake Geneva region and its related job creation,” Patrick Aebischer, president of the Lausanne-based university known as EPFL by its French acronym, said in the statement.

Merck, based in Darmstadt, Germany, said in April last year that it planned to close the Geneva site to cut costs.

Designed by architect Helmut Jahn, the building sits on a 6.5-acre (2.6-hectare) site overlooking Lake Geneva and features an atrium with a 10,800 square-foot glass-and-steel roof that tilts open to cool the space in warm weather, according to Architectural Record. It also has a water wall in the lobby that humidifies the space in winter and allows for cooling in summer.

Wyss is the founder of Synthes, which was acquired by Johnson & Johnson for $19.7 billion last year.