EMD Serono, Inc. and FAST FORWARD, LLC Announce First Results of Their Collaboration to Advance Drug Development in Multip

EMD Serono and Fast Forward provide funding of almost $1.5 million to accelerate development of innovative drugs to repair and protect the nervous system in MS

ROCKLAND, Mass. & NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- EMD Serono, Inc., an affiliate of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt Germany, and Fast Forward, LLC, a not-for-profit organization established by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to accelerate the development of discoveries into new or improved therapies, today announced the first four recipients of funding designed to speed research advances in mutually selected high potential areas of MS research. The awards total nearly $1.5 million. Two are allocated to development programs which are available to for-profit entities and two are allocated to innovation projects, available to university-based investigators and seed-stage for-profit entities. EMD Serono and Fast Forward are currently soliciting proposals (Request for Proposals - RFPs) for the next round of funding available through this collaboration. (For more information please visit: www.nationalmssociety.org/fast-forward/index.aspx)

The focus of the first RFPs, issued in 2009, was central nervous system (CNS) neuroprotection and/or repair strategies; these priority areas were determined by a joint steering committee (JSC) comprising Fast Forward staff and representatives from EMD Serono and Merck KGaA. As part of the current collaboration agreement with Fast Forward, EMD Serono provided the majority of funding for the research awards, with Fast Forward contributing 10 percent of the financing to round out the awards disseminated from each of the two funds. The following are the recipients from the Accelerating Commercial Development fund:

  • Innate Therapeutics Limited, Auckland, New Zealand (Project Director – Simon Wilkinson) will receive $550,000 over 15 months to conduct a phase IIa clinical trial in patients with progressive forms of MS using MIS416, a naturally occurring agent derived from bacteria.
  • Cognosci Inc., Research Triangle Park, NC (Project Director – Feng Qiao Li, PhD) will receive $330,000 over 12 months for the efficacy testing of COG112, a molecule that mimics actions of the cholesterol transporting protein, ApoE. In the funded studies, the company will evaluate the ability of COG112 to promote myelin repair in the central nervous system (CNS) in laboratory models of MS.

Additionally, the following organizations will receive financing from the Accelerating Innovation Fund:

  • CenTRion Therapeutics Limited, University of Greenwich, UK, (Project Director – Michael Leach, PhD) will receive $275,000 over 12 months for studies with compounds, related to lamotrigine, an approved epilepsy therapy, which some studies suggest also can protect nerve cells from damage. CenTRion will conduct research to determine the safety and efficacy of its original neuroprotective compounds in laboratory models of MS.
  • Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR, (Project Director – Lawrence Sherman, PhD) will receive $275,000 for the screening and efficacy of small molecule inhibitors of hyaluronidase, an enzyme that dissolves hyaluronic acid – a complex sugar molecule that accumulates in MS lesions. Dr. Sherman’s group has found that by-products resulting from breakdown of hyaluronic acid prevent myelin repair. This project will assess whether myelin repair blockage can be overcome by inhibiting the activity of hyaluronidase.

“We are pleased to announce the 2009 funding recipients who will work to advance promising early- and late-stage projects in MS that could ultimately help patients,” said Bernhard Kirschbaum, PhD, Executive Vice President, Global Research and Development at Merck Serono, an affiliate of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. “EMD Serono is committed to advancing scientific and medical knowledge and to furthering key research that has the potential to help people living with MS.”

“The promise of current research to change the MS landscape is exciting, and it fuels the collaboration between Fast Forward and EMD Serono in advancing science in key areas of focus to speed the development of new therapies and innovations to benefit people living with MS. We are proud to be able to provide resources for those working to end MS and look forward to the seeing the results stemming from these projects,” said Dr. Timothy Coetzee, President of Fast Forward.

EMD Serono and Fast Forward entered into a two-year worldwide agreement in March 2009 to accelerate the development of treatments for MS. The collaboration, which supports early-stage clinical development projects with biotech companies as well as programs with individual researchers and academic institutions, has the potential to be extended for an additional three years. The RFP process for 2010 is currently underway with a goal of approving the next round of recipients expected in December. (For more information please visit: www.nationalmssociety.org/fast-forward/index.aspx)

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 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 www.fastforward.org.

About MS and the 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 www.nationalMSsociety.org.

About EMD Serono, Inc.

EMD Serono, Inc., an affiliate of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, is a leader in the US biopharmaceutical arena, integrating cutting-edge science with unparalleled patient support systems to improve people's lives. The company has strong market positions in neurodegenerative diseases, with Rebif® (interferon beta-1a), as well as in endocrinology, with Saizen® (somatropin (rDNA origin) for injection) and Serostim® (somatropin (rDNA origin) for injection). EMD Serono is a leader in reproductive health, with Gonal-f® (follitropin alfa for injection), Luveris® (lutropin alfa for injection) and Ovidrel® Prefilled Syringe (choriogonadotropin alfa injection). With a clear focus on the patient and a leadership presence in the biopharmaceutical industry, EMD Serono’s US footprint continues to grow, with more than 1000 employees around the country and fully integrated commercial, clinical and research operations in the company’s home state of Massachusetts. For more information, please visit www.emdserono.com.

About Merck KGaA

Merck KGaA is a global pharmaceutical and chemical company with total revenues of € 7.7 billion in 2009, a history that began in 1668, and a future shaped by approximately 33,600 employees in 64 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.


EMD Serono, Inc.
Heather Hatfield, 781-681-2124

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