Merck Serono and Fast Forward Announce Recipients of Funding for Multiple Sclerosis Research

By Merck Serono S A, PRNE
Wednesday, June 29, 2011

GENEVA, June 30, 2011 -


  • Merck Serono and Fast Forward Provide Funding
    of Over $1 Million to
    Accelerate Early Stage Research in Multiple

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)

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
d 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

Howard Florey Institute, Carlton, Victoria,
Australia (Project Director - Bevyn Jarrot,
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
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

Under the Accelerating Commercial Development

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

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

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

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.

About Merck

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.

For more information, please visit or

Merck Serono is a division of Merck.

Merck Serono S.A. - Geneva, 9 Chemin des Mines, 1202 Genève, Suisse, Media relations, Tel: +41-22-414-36-00

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