Merck KGaA, the oldest pharmaceutical and chemical company in the world, is joining the Chief Scientist's cooperation program for research and development in an effort to invest in Israeli biotech start-ups. "The agreement with Merck marks a significant move forward for the Israeli biotech industry, which for long has been one of our priority areas for further development," said Dr Eli Ofer, chief scientist at the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry. Merck Serono, a division of Merck KGaA, which specializes in innovative prescription pharmaceuticals, will be signing an agreement today to join the Chief Scientist's research and development program for international cooperation between local start-ups and global companies. As part of the program, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry will finance half of the R&D costs of the companies joining the program through the Chief Scientist's Office. Under the terms of the agreement, Merck Serono will cooperate and assist select Israeli biotech companies in their R&D development and in marketing themselves worldwide. Over the next few days, the Chief Scientist's Office will advertise a call for proposals for Israeli biotech companies to cooperate with Merck. The R&D cooperation agreement that will be signed by Merck comes as part of this week's German business delegation trip to Israel, hosted by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, the Israel Export Institute and Israel Manufacturers' Association. As part of their visit, senior executives of German companies, including Merck, Bayer, Siemens, Kaufhof and Man will be meeting with their counterparts in the local business community including Dov Lautman of Delta, Orna Berry of the IVA, Gad Proper of Osem, Sami Sagol of Keter, Makhteshim Agan, Israel Chemicals, Teva and Given Imaging. Bi-lateral trade between Germany and Israel rose 10 percent to $3.8 billion over the first three quarters of this year compared with the same period last year. Separately, recent press reports have said that Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, the world's largest non-generic drugmaker, is in advanced talks with the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry to open its first local R&D center, to be located in the Galilee.