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Suffolk Group Client EMD Serono Creates Spinoff to Develop a Pill for Infertility


Dec 2, 2013, 1:48pm EST spinoff looks to develop a pill for in 

BioFlash Editor- Boston Business Journal

A new company based on technology developed by Rockland-based EMD Serono is looking to develop a pill to replace the hormone injections now used in infertility treatments.

German drug giant Merck KGaA, EMD Serono's parent company, today said that it’s launching TocopheRx as the eighth spinoff to come out of the company's Entrepreneur Partnership Program. Stephen Palmer, the chief scientific officer at the spinoff and one of its three founders, said the spinoff has just secured a Burlington office, but will operate mostly as a virtual company for the next few years as it continues pre-clinical research.

TocopheRx — the name of which comes from the Greek words for “pregnancy” and “to stimulate” — plans to test an oral version of follicle-stimulating hormones, which are currently injected in the course of in-vitro fertilization treatments. Palmer, an employee at EMD Serono from 2004 until recently, said that he and the other two founders (Selva Nataraja, head of biology, and Henry Yu, head of medicinal chemistry) were in charge of the program at EMD Serono to develop the oral infertility treatment when it was discontinued. They applied to the EPP for assistance to start a new company, because they “saw the tremendous potential for this molecule,” said Palmer.

“We thought that is was a shame to set this aside when there was so much potential,” he said.

Also, he said, there have been no new medicines for infertility in several years now, and he believes that TocopheRx’s approach could develop a drug that’s not only cheaper than IVF, but potentially more effective.

He said the company is still likely three or four years away from entering human trials with the drug, at which point it may look to expand from its current three employees.

MS Ventures, the corporate venture arm of Merck’s biopharmaceutical division, will manage Merck's $3.2 million investment in TocopheRX and be represented on the spinoff’s board of directors. (Merck KGaA is separate from Merck & Co., the New Jersey-based drug company.)

The EPP was launched in April 2012 and was intended to help create spinoffs and startup companies based on discoveries made at Merck as the global drug giant underwent restructuring. The program has mostly been aimed at startups in Switzerland, and Palmer said TocopheRx is the first U.S.-based startup to come out of the program.