GENEVA, June 30, 2011 /PRNewswire/ --
- Merck Serono and Fast Forward Provide Funding of Over $1 Million to Accelerate Early Stage Research in Multiple Sclerosis
Merck Serono, a division of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, and Fast Forward, LLC, a not-for-profit organization established by the American National Multiple Sclerosis Society, today announced the second group of recipients to receive funding through their collaboration, which is designed to speed research advances in mutually selected, high potential areas of multiple sclerosis (MS) research.
The awards total over $1million and will be distributed from two funds created by Merck Serono and Fast Forward to encourage early stage drug discovery for MS: the Accelerating Commercial Development Fund which is allocated to development programs for for-profit entities and the Accelerating Innovation Fund which is allocated to innovation projects and available to university-based investigators and seed-stage for-profit entities.
Merck Serono and Fast Forward distributed a call for proposals to fund projects focused on central nervous system neuroprotection and/or repair strategies. These priority areas were determined by a joint steering committee comprising Fast Forward staff and representatives from Merck Serono.
The following organizations will receive funding:
Under the Accelerating Innovation Fund:
Howard Florey Institute, Carlton, Victoria, Australia (Project Director - Bevyn Jarrot, Ph.D.) will receive $275,000 over 12 months to advance the development of molecules that target Nav 1.6 ion channels. In MS, there is a change in these ion channels, which contributes to abnormal nerve function. This project will focus on molecules which could potentially prevent this abnormal function, thereby protecting axons from further damage.
The Gladstone Institutes /UCSF (Project Director-Katerina Akassoglou, Ph.D.) will receive $300,000 to conduct testing for the identification of small molecule inhibitors of microglial activation. Microglia are part of the resident immune system in the brain and spinal cord. Activation of microglia in MS is thought to contribute to the inflammation and nerve cell damage associated with MS. In the funded studies, the investigators will focus on developing novel molecules that have the potential to inhibit the activation of microglia in MS.
Under the Accelerating Commercial Development Fund:
Axxam SpA, Milan, Italy (Project Director -Michela Stucchi, Ph.D.) will receive $430,590 over 18 months to advance the development of small molecules that target the sodium-calcium exchanger NCX1 on axons. NCX1 functioning in reverse mode is thought to cause nerve cell death in MS. Axxam is developing molecules to prevent NCX1 activation and thus prevent axonal injury and ultimately clinical disability in MS.
"We are pleased to announce the 2011 funding recipients who will work to advance exciting early-stage projects in MS," said Dr. Bernhard Kirschbaum, Merck Serono's Head of Global Research and Development. "We are committed to advancing research that has the potential to improve understanding of the disease, and ultimately result in the development of therapies to help people living with multiple sclerosis."
Merck Serono and Fast Forward entered into an initial two-year, worldwide agreement in March 2009, and recently extended the collaboration. As part of the up to $19 million collaborative agreement with Fast Forward, Merck Serono provided the majority of funding for the research awards, with Fast Forward contributing 10 percent of the total financing of the awards disseminated from each of the two funds.
"The potential of multiple sclerosis research currently in progress around the globe holds great promise for improving the quality of life for people living with multiple sclerosis," said Dr. Timothy Coetzee, Chief Research Officer at the American National MS Society and Fast Forward. We are pleased to have the opportunity to advance that promise through the continued collaboration between Fast Forward and Merck Serono. Our commitment to furthering research that will end multiple sclerosis remains steadfast, and we look forward to learning more from the results of these innovative research projects."
About multiple sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, inflammatory condition of the central nervous system and is the most common, non-traumatic, disabling neurological disease in young adults. It is estimated that approximately two million people have MS worldwide. While symptoms can vary, the most common symptoms of MS include blurred vision, numbness or tingling in the limbs and problems with strength and coordination. The relapsing forms of MS are the most common.
About Fast Forward, LLC
Fast Forward, LLC, established by the American National Multiple Sclerosis Society as part of a comprehensive approach to MS research and treatment, focuses on speeding promising research discoveries towards commercial drug development. Fast Forward accelerates the development of treatments for MS by connecting university-based MS research with private-sector drug development and by funding small biotechnology/pharmaceutical companies to develop innovative new MS therapies and repurpose FDA-approved drugs as new treatments for MS. For more information, please visit http://www.fastforward.org.
About multiple sclerosis and the American National Multiple Sclerosis Society
MS is a chronic, unpredictable neurological disease that affects the central nervous system. It is thought to be an autoimmune disorder, meaning the immune system incorrectly attacks healthy tissue. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. These problems may be permanent or may come and go. The National MS Society addresses the challenges of each person affected by MS by funding cutting-edge research, driving change through advocacy, facilitating professional education, collaborating with MS organizations around the world, and providing programs and services designed to help people with MS and their families move their lives forward. The Society is dedicated to achieving a world free of MS. Join the movement at http://www.nationalMSsociety.org.
About Merck Serono
Merck Serono is the biopharmaceutical division of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, a global pharmaceutical and chemical company. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, Merck Serono discovers, develops, manufactures and markets prescription medicines of both chemical and biological origin in specialist indications. In the United States and Canada, EMD Serono operates as a separately incorporated affiliate of Merck Serono.
Merck Serono has leading brands serving patients with cancer (Erbitux®, cetuximab), multiple sclerosis (Rebif®, interferon beta-1a), infertility (Gonal-f®, follitropin alfa), endocrine and metabolic disorders (Saizen® and Serostim®, somatropin), (Kuvan®, sapropterin dihydrochloride), (Egrifta™, tesamorelin), as well as cardiometabolic diseases (Glucophage®, metformin), (Concor®, bisoprolol), (Euthyrox®, levothyroxine). Not all products are available in all markets.
With an annual R&D expenditure of over € 1bn, Merck Serono is committed to growing its business in specialist-focused therapeutic areas including neurodegenerative diseases, oncology, fertility and endocrinology, as well as new areas potentially arising out of research and development in rheumatology.
Merck is a global pharmaceutical and chemical company with total revenues of € 9.3 billion in 2010, a history that began in 1668, and a future shaped by more than 40,000 employees in 67 countries. Its success is characterized by innovations from entrepreneurial employees. Merck's operating activities come under the umbrella of Merck KGaA, in which the Merck family holds an approximately 70% interest and free shareholders own the remaining approximately 30%. In 1917 the U.S. subsidiary Merck & Co. was expropriated and has been an independent company ever since.
Merck Serono is a division of Merck.
SOURCE Merck Serono S A