Merck Serono Courting Biotechnology Start-ups

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Stefan Oschmann came courting biotechnology start-ups last week, a trans-Atlantic visitor promising not only pharmaceutical industry expertise but also cash. Oschmann, who made his pitch to several dozen area life sciences insiders at the Charles Hotel, isn’t an investment banker or venture capitalist. He’s chief executive of Merck Serono, the German-based multinational drug maker that owns the EMD Serono biotech division in Rockland and life sciences toolmaker EMD Millipore in Billerica. Increasingly, however, Oschmann is playing a role as a partner to smaller biotechs — and also as an investor in them. Last week, Merck Serono said it was boosting its worldwide venture outlays from $51.4 million to $128.6 million, establishing a formal venture arm called MS Venture, and dispatching an executive to scout for potential portfolio companies in the Boston area. In doing so, it became the latest biopharmaceutical firm to jump into the risky business of early-stage investing.

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