Fast Forward and EMD Serono Provide funding of Over $1 Million to Accelerate Early Stage Research in - National Multiple Sclerosis Society

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Fast Forward and EMD Serono Provide funding of Over $1 Million to Accelerate Early Stage Research in MS

June 30, 2011

New York, NY, JUNE 30, 2011 – Fast Forward, LLC, a not-for-profit organization established by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and EMD Serono, Inc., an affiliate of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany 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 MS research.

The awards total over $1million and will be distributed from two funds created by Fast Forward and EMD Serono 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.

Fast Forward and EMD Serono 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 EMD Serono and Merck KGaA.

The following organizations will receive funding:

Under the Accelerating Innovation Fund:

  • Howard Florey Institute, Carlton, Victoria, Australia (Project Director – Bevyn Jarrott, 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.

“The potential of MS research currently in progress around the globe holds great promise for improving the quality of life for people living with MS,” said Dr. Timothy Coetzee, Chief Research Officer at the 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 EMD Serono. Our commitment to furthering research that will end MS remains steadfast, and we look forward to learning more from the results of these innovative research projects.”

Fast Forward and EMD Serono 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, EMD 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.

“We are pleased to announce the 2011 funding recipients who will work to advance promising early-stage projects in MS,” said Bernhard Kirschbaum, PhD, Executive Vice President, Global Research and Development at Merck Serono, a division of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. “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 MS.”

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 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), Serostim® (somatropin (rDNA origin) for injection) and EGRIFTA® (tesamorelin 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). In addition, EMD Serono is growing its expertise and presence in the area of oncology, with more than 10 projects currently in development. 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 1100 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 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 68 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 www.merckserono.com or www.merck.de.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis, an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system, interrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

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